Taking on the challenge to walk 10,000 steps a day is a great decision for better health.

Two young women hiking and having fun

Did you know the concept of walking ‘10,000 steps a day’ originated in Japan? Interestingly, the challenge was first created to sell step counters in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, although there was no real evidence to support this target at the time. Nonetheless, several studies since have found that increasing your step count each day is an excellent way to improve and maintain your overall health.

What are the health benefits?

In need of some extra inspiration to reach for your walking shoes today? The long list of health benefits is impressive! Stepping out on a 30-minute walk each day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. And it’s not just your body that benefits – the way you think and feel changes too. Moderate exercise such as walking can put you in a better mood, improve concentration, and help manage and soothe anxiety and stress. Plus, it can even enhance your outlook on life by boosting your confidence and self-esteem over time.

If you find it’s too difficult to walk for 30 minutes in one session, start with regular, small bouts (10 minutes or so) throughout the day and gradually build up from there. Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that some exercise is better than none at all, and increasing your physical activity each day will provide even more health benefits1.

What does 10,000 steps look like?

Ten thousand steps equates to about eight kilometres, or an hour and 40 minutes walking, depending on your stride length and walking speed. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it all in one walk. You will naturally accumulate steps through your day-to-day activities, but to reach the 10,000-step goal, you will likely need to do a 30-minute walk (or the equivalent in other exercise) as well.

Every little bit counts throughout the day – you could walk part of the way to work, take a stroll at lunchtime, have a walk-and-talk coffee meeting, walk to the supermarket instead of driving, or take the dog out for a play in the park in the evening.

For other forms of exercise, 10,000 Steps suggests counting things like swimming, going to the gym and playing tennis by converting them into steps as follows:

Moderate Intensity Activity

10 minutes of moderate intensity activity = 1,000 steps.

Moderate intensity activity causes a slight, but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. You should be able to maintain a conversation. Some examples of moderate intensity activity include:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Horse riding
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Active gardening (e.g. mowing, raking and digging)

High Intensity or Vigorous Activity

10 minutes of high intensity activity = 2,000 steps.

High intensity activity makes you “huff and puff” and is where talking full sentences between breaths is difficult. Some examples of high intensity activity include:

  • Circuit training
  • Aerobics
  • Brisk rowing
  • Fast cycling
  • Jogging
  • Competitive sport (e.g. squash, football and netball)

How to reach 10,000 steps

Use an activity tracker

Pedometers have come a long way – there is now a huge range of fitness gadgets available that are comfortable to wear, attractive and technologically advanced, including smart watches and handy apps for your mobile phone. These activity trackers can be great motivational tools to help you reach your goals. Being able to see how you’re doing throughout the day can be an excellent way to boost your confidence, keep you focused on your aims and push you to chase the next milestone.

Choose your goal

If you haven’t tracked your steps before, you might find it really interesting to see how much you normally walk. For the first few days of wearing your activity tracker, notice what your normal activity levels are like and take some time to familiarise yourself with how many steps each activity is worth. If your normal lifestyle is quite sedentary and 10,000 steps seems like a difficult goal, just start small. You might decide to try to increase your activity by 1000 or 2000 steps a day. Every small improvement is a step in the right direction. Choose a goal that you feel is achievable and use each small success to motivate you to go further.

Enlist your friends, family or co-workers in a challenge

Doing anything as a group is a great way to boost your motivation and enthusiasm. Encourage your friends, family members of colleagues to join your 10,000 steps challenge, and the shared goal will help keep you all inspired. You could even start a friendly competition to push yourselves further.

Set reminders

Using whatever method works best for you – notes on your desk, calendar pop-ups, an alarm on your phone, or alerts from your fitness device – set a few reminders throughout the day to keep you inspired and motivated to get moving.

Make opportunities for activity

A great way to reach your goal is to divide your walking between active exercise and incidental activity. You can find plenty of opportunities throughout the day to be more active. Once you get used to looking for them, you’ll find lots of ways to avoid the easier options (like driving around the corner to the shops) and get moving instead. Soon, making active choices will become second nature. Here are a few simple ideas…

  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Walk all or part of the way to work
  • Step out for 10 minutes with a friend or workmate
  • Go for a short walk at lunch time
  • Walk over to your colleagues’ desks instead of emailing them
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Park the car further away (or get off public transport a stop or two early)
  • Walk instead of driving or getting public transport whenever you can
  • Carry the shopping in one bag at a time
  • Invite a friend to go for a scenic walk instead of meeting up for coffee (you could get takeaway coffees and sip while you walk, if you like!)
  • Embrace the household chores – and try to move as much as you can while doing them
  • Walk around while talking on the phone
  • Play active games with the kids

The benefits of regular walks are fantastic and have little health risks but, if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program of physical activity.

1 https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/fs-18-64years

Related Articles