Incorporate more steps into your day

Looking to get more exercise into your day? Taking up the 10,000 steps challenge could help you form healthier exercise habits and benefit your health and wellbeing.

While it’s rumoured to have originated with a tech manufacturer to boost sales of their pedometer, setting a daily goal to walk 10,000 steps has plenty of health benefits, especially for those that are currently living sedentary lives.

“The good thing about 10,000 steps is it’s a prescriptive goal – people know what they’re aiming for, it can be easily tracked using pedometers, activity trackers or smart phone apps, and adding more steps can be done anywhere and generally by most people,” says Kelly Corry, 10,000 Steps Project Manager.

The goal of 10,000 steps per day also works in well with the Australia’s National Physical Activity Guidelines, which recommend adults aim for 150-300 minutes of exercise per week. The average Australian takes around 7,400 steps per day, so by including an additional 30-minute walk in their day they can achieve both the steps per day goal and meet the guidelines.

Those who are currently inactive or not yet sufficiently active – that is, not yet meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines – are most likely to benefit from taking up the challenge. “Research has shown that any increases in physical activity (no matter how small) will benefit your health,” Corry says.

Stats show there are plenty of Aussies who fall into this group – according to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing:

  • 80% of children and young people aged 5–17 do not meet the physical activity recommendations
  • 54% of women and 51% of men aged 18–64 are inactive or insufficiently active
  • 65% of Australians aged 65 and over are inactive or insufficiently active.

Why do it?

Regular physical activity and a healthy diet are important factors in maintaining a healthy weight, and preventing and managing chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s estimated that inactivity is the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and 30% of ischemic heart disease burden.

In even as little as a month, Corry says participating in regular physical activity may:

  • improve muscular and cardiovascular fitness
  • improve posture, mobility and balance
  • improve bone health
  • assist with sleep difficulties
  • lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer
  • lower the risk of falling and of hip or vertebral fractures
  • help to maintain a healthy weight
  • help to prevent and manage mental health problems
  • create opportunities for socialising and meeting new people.

Making the most of your exercise time

While walking slowly will offer more benefits than sitting still, to really make gains from your 10,000 steps, you need to ensure you get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day. This doesn’t have to be from walking – you may prefer swimming, weight lifting or kickboxing, for example.

But if all your exercise is on foot – be it walking or jogging, set a timer several times per week and consciously work at a brisk enough pace to get your heart pumping faster, ensuring it falls into the moderate or vigorous exercise recommended.

Getting started

Deciding to start an exercise program and actually doing it can be two different things. Here are Corry’s tips to get you on your way, or work through any motivation problems.

  • Always consult with a doctor or healthcare professional before commencing a physical activity program.
  • Remember, you do not have to aim for the 10,000 steps per day straight up, you can gradually increase your step count over time.
  • Start off with small increases and then gradually increase the intensity over time.
  • If you’re struggling to go it alone, get friends, family or work colleagues onboard – they don’t have to commit to all the steps, but doing some daily walking with you will help contribute to the tally, and they’ll be more likely to check in with you about your progress and keep you accountable.
  • Create a playlist with upbeat music to get your heart pumping and your feet moving quickly.
  • If you get out of the habit and miss a few days, it’s important to give yourself a pass and start again – as many times as it takes.

So if you’ve been looking for that ‘magic bullet’ to get yourself on track with your health and wellbeing, but struggling to get started, what could be easier than putting a step tracker on your wrist and aiming for those 10,000 daily steps?

Editor’s note: the staff at Defence Health recently took on the 10,000 step challenge. Collectively the group walked 23,502,841 steps (equating to 14,101km) in one month!