Beginning in March of 2017, I did something totally crazy...I walked more.
For the past several years, I’ve been pretty vigilant about lifting and exercising at least 3-4 days per week. But being an engineer with a 9-5 desk job, I knew I probably wasn’t getting enough movement in my life.
So when I got a FitBit for Christmas, I jumped at the opportunity to give it a shot. I was curious to find out what the big deal was with the magical 10,000 daily recommended steps. How would it improve my life? Would I feel or look better physically? Would I have some sort of epiphany?
I set a 30-day challenge on this blog and went for it.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any dramatic results. The biggest reasons for me doing it were for the challenge and to force more movement into my life. For your average person, 10,000 steps is equivalent to walking roughly 5 miles. Depending on your height and the length of your stride, it could actually be a little more or less. That’s not easy for someone working a mostly sedentary job.
If you’re interested in the 10,000 steps movement or wondering what it’s really all about, you’ve come to the right place. In this rather lengthy article, I dive into the origin of 10,000 steps, the benefits of walking, what you shouldn’t expect to happen, my personal experiment, and much more.
Where Did the Number 10,000 Actually Come from?
Before getting into the benefits of walking and moving more, I thought I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t fill you in on this dirty little secret…
Are you ready for it?
There’s absolutely nothing special about the number 10,000.
And it certainly doesn’t have any special bearing on the recommended number of daily steps, other than “it’s what we’ve always been told”.
Thanks to Nat Eliason’s edition of Could that Be Explained by Marketing? my eyes were opened. As it turns out, 10,000 steps was just a super effective Japanese marketing ploy that ended up catching on.
What were they trying to sell? A brand new Made-In-Japan pedometer that was released just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Apparently, the number 10,000 is uniquely embedded in Japanese culture, and it would help sell the product, so they went with it.
50 some years later when FitBit and other fitness trackers were introduced, they kept with tradition. Despite being completely made up, it sounded great for marketing purposes and turned out to be at least a somewhat good target to shoot for.
Does This Mean There Are No Benefits to Reaching 10,000 Steps Daily?
Some time ago, roughly 2,400 years, Hippocrates once said, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” This inspired a couple of scientists from University College London to conduct a meta-analysis of research published over a 37-year period from 1970 to 2007.
Their goal was to find out if there was any validity to what Hippocrates once said.
Their work spanned the evaluation of almost 460,000 participants across 18 different high quality studies. Each study started with information about the participants’ walking habits, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and other pertinent health information. The participants were monitored for an average of about 11 years, during which any major health events (heart attack, stroke, surgeries required, etc.) and deaths were documented.
Through this analysis, it was discovered that those who walked regularly showed a 31% decreased chance of cardiovascular events and a 32% decreased chance of death during the experiment.
Those are odds I would want in my favor any day – and that’s just walking.
While the 10,000 step target may be arbitrary, there are many proven benefits of adding more movement into your life.
Let’s dive into the rest.
Why Someone Might Want to Try Getting 10,000 Steps Each Day
Human beings like to move. As a kid, I went to school, played sports, rode my bike around the neighborhood, then went to sleep and did it all over again. I had so much energy, so I did the only thing I knew how to do – get out and move. I felt great and enjoyed life to the fullest.
Fast forward to the end of high school and I was a different person. I played sports only occasionally and ditched the bike for chasing girls and nights out at the movies. When I wasn’t sitting at a desk in class, I was likely at home playing Halo or Warcraft 3.
I also developed anxiety and a number of mysterious aches/pains those years. Coincidence? Maybe. But doubtful.
Movement is a basic function of human life and our physiology craves it. Here are some reasons why someone might want to try getting 10,000 steps each day.
Move More Reason #1: To Win the Battle Against Sitting
Most people looking to give the 10,000 steps thing a try are doing it for the fact that we all sit too damn much. As we’ve come to find out through the work of Dr. James A. Levine, sitting is really freaking bad for you. He even goes as far as saying:
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
What the actual shit.
As an engineer, I spend most of my 9-5 life sitting at a desk staring at 2 wide-screen, high resolution monitors. I’ll be honest with you, it sucks, and likely so does my posture while doing it.
For me, winning the battle against sitting was the leading reason for me to give this a shot.
FYI – Dr. Levine’s book, Get Up, was a pretty darn good read. I’d recommend it just to open your eyes a bit on the issue in general.
Move More Reason # 2: For the Health Benefits
Other than the few already mentioned, there are quite a few health benefits of moving more.
For starters, the Surgeon General recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity each week. That equates to a little over 20 minutes of exercise each day, or about 30 minutes of exercise most days. If you’re getting 10,000 steps a day, chances are you’re eclipsing that target by a fair amount, which should be more than enough to enjoy the benefits listed below:
Lower blood pressure. Brisk walking seeming to be the most effective based on the Korean study mentioned here.
Lower chance of stroke. Folks from Harvard apparently know a thing or two.
Reduced stress and improved mood. I don’t know about you, but I’m a completely different person when I get more exercise. There’s active Jason, and then there’s sedentary Jason. One you should approach as though poking a grizzly bear, the other you can do whatever because he’s probably not going to give a fuuuh…
Erectile dysfunction. More ragers? Good for the men (and the ladies, too). This is probably an indirect result of better circulation, but a great point to highlight nonetheless.
You may lose weight. Weight loss and fat loss are a whole lot more complicated than just moving more. That said, if everything else in your life remains the same, then chances are that the increased activity may help you shed a few extra pounds. I’d link to a specific study or resource, but there’s just way too much on this particular topic.
Move More Reason # 3: For the Challenge
Lately, I’ve been having a blast trying a bunch of new things and setting challenges to follow through. Bonus points for bringing others into the fun for extra accountability.
Doing what it takes to get 10,000 steps in a day is a lot harder than it seems. Just track your stats for one day and you’ll find you probably overestimated how many steps you’re actually taking.
And if you thought one day was tough, try doing it consistently for 30. The challenge aspect of this is definitely enough to test your mettle – it certainly tested mine as you’ll find out a little further down.
Move More Reason # 4: For the Unexpected Benefits
As I was going through my 10,000 step challenge, I was pretty shocked at some of the things I was noticing about myself. Turns out, just about everything you do has some sort of impact on another area of your life. There were a number of unexpected things I took away from this event, which you'll find at the end of this article.
What Kind of Results You Shouldn’t Expect
If you made it this far, you might be wondering what sort of body aesthetics 10,000 steps might help you achieve.
You’ll be disappointed to know that it probably won’t get you shredded. Body recomp is about a whole lot more than a few thousand extra steps. It usually involves some sort of resistance training coupled with a consistently healthy diet.
When it comes to looks, you really can’t outwalk your diet, folks.
That said, nobody said you had to get your 10,000 steps only by walking. If your regimen includes lifting weights and/or some type of higher intensity cardio, who knows what could happen.
Besides aesthetics, you probably shouldn’t expect 10,000 steps to:
- Immediately cure any major illnesses or disease. Moving more alone won’t cure cancer. But the long-term effects of higher activity levels certainly can't hurt.
- Save a failing relationship – though it might!
- Change your life in a day. One-day worth of 10,000 steps won’t rock your world. A month or years’ worth might.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
The 10,000 steps notion, in general, is about moving more consistently over the long haul. It’s about building the right habits to improve your life one step at a time. See what I did there?
Why Walk When You Can Run?
As I alluded to above, how you get your 10,000 steps in makes a difference on the results you achieve.
During my challenge, I admittedly didn’t walk the full 10,000 steps every day. There’d be days when I’d come home from work staring down a FitBit with only 5,000 steps.
I didn’t have time to walk the rest, so I usually jogged or ran instead.
Most people who consistently get 10,000 steps per day, if I were to guess, are pretty active people who likely do some other form of exercise besides walking.
At the end of the day, this challenge is really just about moving more through whatever form of exercise you enjoy and can handle.
Get some exercise. Move more. And try not to worry too much about the rest.
My Personal 30-Day Experiment
I’m a guy who’s pretty big on action. Learning through trial by fire has been a pretty constant theme for much of my life, so I opted to just give this 10,000 steps thing a shot.
Back in my college days, as a skinny dude at the gym, my buddies and I would look at some huge, jacked dude and say “I could probably kick his ass.” Jokingly, of course. But the others’ response was always:
“There’s only one way to find out.”
And that was to actually try.
I’ve never been in an actual fist fight in my life, but with something like this challenge, I could definitely test it out for myself rather than just read about it. I chose wisdom over knowledge and began strategizing my approach.
Through this blog, I created a 30-day challenge where I committed to getting at least 10,000 steps a day for the next 30 days.
With this challenge, I personally wanted to find out 3 things:
- How hard was it to consistently get 10,000 steps in a day?
- How would it improve my life, if at all?
- If it proved worthwhile, was the 30-day period enough to make it a habit that I could continue beyond the challenge?
Before I got started, I posted the challenge on my site and encouraged readers to participate with me if they wanted to.
One of the reasons for sharing this with my audience was to give myself accountability, something I go more in-depth on in Engineer Your Habits, the massive guide I created to help others create lasting change.
I knew that without someone to check-in with, I likely wouldn’t follow through on days I just wasn’t feeling it. I also wanted some sort of punishment for not achieving my daily target.
If I didn’t reach my goal, I gave one of my subscribers $20, which might not seem like a lot, but after the first week I was already down $40. This motivated me to try and get 10,000 as often as possible.
If I did end up reaching my goal on any given day, I celebrated by simply enjoying the benefits first-hand (and often with a high-five from my girlfriend).
The Weekly Rundown
Immediately after introducing the challenge, I spent the next week experimenting with how hard it was going to be. For what it’s worth, here’s the graph for that week:
A few days in I had a good feel for the level of effort it would take to get to 10,000 steps. It was going to be a little difficult squeezing time into my schedule with long commutes, but nothing insurmountable.
Then on Monday, March 13, 2017, the official challenge started. I broke down the 30 days into 4 full weeks, plus a final week with just 2 days of work.
Each week, I highlighted my week of walking and shared my results/struggles with my readers. This was also when I forked over the cash.
Week 1 Results
I’ve always been a guy who’s dreaded cardio, especially running, but I found myself jogging and running to reach my goal some days this week…and enjoying it. Weird.
My week started off strong on Monday, hit a few rough patches Tuesday and Thursday, but I closed the week out well. To cap off my week, I remember looking at my Fitbit the last night at 9:30 pm, staring down an abysmal 4,500 step count. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I went outside for a night jog and willed my way to my goal.
That was an awesome moment for me.
Getting 10,000 steps was pretty easy at first, but once the initial motivation and excitement faded, it became a lot more of a hassle.
No noticeable benefits yet, but I do feel great on a daily basis about my accomplishments.
Week 2 Results
After the 2nd week, 5 seemed to be the magic number for days I achieved my goal. I was looking good for hitting at least 6, but a lazy and relaxing Sunday followed by a late night thunderstorm persuaded me otherwise.
My focus going into week 3 was to hit my mark at least 6 days.
I have noticed a slight increase in energy and not needing as much coffee or tea to power through my days. Joints also feel a little less achy, but could just be wishful thinking.
Week 3 Results
I failed to achieve my goal of 6 days getting at least 10,000 steps. Once again, 5 days was the best I was able to do this week. Things were looking up, but a last minute weekend trip with lots of traveling (and sitting) left me with some abysmal numbers for Friday/Saturday. I came back strong on Sunday, but it was too late by then to recover the two lost days.
After 3 weeks, I’m definitely feeling more energized and less achy. I’ve been running more, which has actually gotten me into the best physical shape of my life in a long time, meaning I don’t feel nearly as winded as I previously would have.
Week 4 Results
I finally effing did it. 6 days – in a row, whoop whoop - of walking at least 10,000 steps. Come Sunday, I was so excited to have accomplished my goal, that I just sat around and relaxed the hell out of that day. Unfortunately, I also had food poisoning from a restaurant we ate at the night before, but whatever. I was still happy.
No extra benefits since week 3, but I do feel great every day that I can win this mini-game I’ve created for myself.
I also love giving high-fives.
Week 5 Results
This was the short final week for me. Monday and Tuesday I hit my goal and starting Wednesday I was off the challenge, back into my old ways.
It was clear by this point that 10,000 steps were a daily grind and something that required a significant tweak to my routine to regularly achieve.
Ending the challenge was bitter-sweet for me, but I definitely walked away with some great benefits and an elevated sense of purpose for the 30-day period.
I wonder if this can be carried over into other aspects of my life…something I’ll definitely be looking into over the next several months.
The High-Level Summary
Here is the overall graph for the challenge:
It actually only shows 28 days since FitBit doesn’t give me the option to graph 30 days. You’ll just have to imagine the last two bars where I did end up reaching 10,000.
Even though 10,000 steps is an arbitrary number, it turned out to be a pretty good target. As a desk-jockey engineer, it was a challenge to get there on a nightly basis, but certainly not impossible.
Do I think this is sustainable in the long-run? Yes, absolutely; however, it would daily dedication or a fairly significant change in lifestyle. Would it be worth it for you? I think only you can really decide that one.
The two biggest physical benefits I noticed were an increase in energy without supplements (caffeine, etc.) and fewer aches and pains. These are what I attribute most to getting the 10,000 steps in daily.
I also got in much better shape from a cardio perspective. This was definitely because I was jogging or running to achieve my goal on most nights.
As for mental benefits, I felt awesome any day that I was able to achieve my goal. I know I mentioned it above, but it really did give me an elevated sense of purpose during the 30-day period. It was fun as hell, and I’m definitely going to be incorporating more challenges into my life.
At the end of the day, and in my own opinion following this challenge, I don’t think our biology really cares how many steps we take. Moving more simply means our hearts beat faster and get a workout. Plus, we aren’t sitting, which is a big deal.
The bottom line is that our health is based on a wide array of factors and trying to definitively say whether or not hitting a certain number of steps matters is impossible.
Moving more and sitting less is the main takeaway behind the 10,000 step regimen.
Some Interesting and Unexpected Things I Learned
During my 30-day journey, there were a bunch of unexpected benefits I experienced and things that I learned. Some of these were from the actual act of moving more itself, and others from the challenge/mental aspect of it.
Nonetheless, it was interesting as hell to learn this stuff about myself.
#1. I would’ve never completed this without my blog’s accountability. Knowing that there was someone to let down and think I was a failure if I quit was big for me.
#2. I’ve always hated running, but as the best option to reach 10k each night, I actually enjoyed it and what it was doing for me.
#3. 10,000 steps turned out to be the perfect target for this challenge. You can see from the graphs above that when I hit my goal, I barely fucking hit it, and the days I failed, I really wasn’t that close. Each day was a test of my will, and that’s what made things so exciting.
#4. Challenges seem to be a great way to push past the shitty beginning stages of forming a habit. They take something you thought previously impossible and make it more manageable.
#5. I quickly became focused more on hitting my daily and weekly goals than worrying about my results at the end of 30 days. If I hit the daily and weekly goals, the rest kind of fell into place. Something to note for any larger projects in life.
#6. Even though I failed to hit 10,000 steps for all 30 days, I still absolutely crushed my before-challenge weekly average of less than 1 day per week getting 10,000 steps. Perspective is everything.
#7. I managed to increase my productivity by a good bit. The extra exercise and time management to reach 10,000 steps helped me buckle down and get stuff done when I needed to.
This challenge was fun as hell for me. So fun, in fact, that I’m already trying to think of what my next one is going to be.
As for continuing my daily 10,000 steps adventure, it’s definitely something I’m going to do. Over the last few weeks, I’ve restructured my days a bit and chunked up my work better to allow for more walking breaks in between.
The positives I took away from this challenge far outweighed any negatives if any, so I would definitely recommend trying it out at some point.
If you’re interested in doing the 10k challenge, or just trying to find some answers on what it’s all about, I hope this post has helped you.
I do a lot of personal experiments here and I love making new friends, so be sure to stop by again soon!
P.S. If you're looking to set up your own 10,000 steps challenge, I created a free PDF checklist that you can download here to get started. It's got your basic setup and a few tips/tricks I learned along the way that would've been useful to know up front.