Small Steps, Big Rewards: The Surprising Performance Benefits of 10,000 StepsMay 17, 2023
In my late 20’s I thought taking walks was lame. I coached Olympic and National level athletes and everything we did was about optimizing physical performance. This meant the most effective cardiovascular training, cutting edge power training and constant injury prevention. Walks?… so boring!
Now that I have logged 25 years of coaching high performance in athletes and business leaders… walks are amazing!
What changed? Did walks suddenly get popular? Yes and no. I happened to be doing biomechanical and heart rate variability research in a lab that was also researching step counts AKA pedometers, accelerometers to track steps, health and activity.
I won’t bore you with the details so to sum it up, if you're someone who is looking to optimize your physical and mental performance, then taking steps towards better health is a crucial step. Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise, and taking 10,000 steps per day has been shown to have significant benefits for both physical and mental health.
And then I started to notice my own steps (because I became one of the subjects in the lab). I pushed my daughter in a running stroller to get her outside on my Sunday recovery days. I walked the dogs to exercise them away from the back yard. I took the stairs to get there faster than the elevator and realized even the smallest steps had a cumulative effect. When I sat too long at work I was moody and not thinking my best.
In fact, research shows that for optimal thinking and physical performance, it's essential to break up sedentary time with short bouts of activity. This can help improve insulin sensitivity, lower levels of body fat, and improve cardiovascular health. One study found that taking at least 3,000 steps in 30 minutes or less was particularly beneficial for improving health outcomes in women. By incorporating short bouts of activity throughout the day, you can enhance your physical performance and promote overall well-being.
I was hooked. I graduated from a pedometer to a Garmin, tried a Fitbit, used Polar and Oura and my scientific brain has tested and retested what feels best for me and my kids. Yes, feels best. I was averaging 16,000 steps per day for a long period of time which is too much for me now. A walk started to become my go to for problem solving or to “cool off” after an upset with the kids.
In addition to physical benefits, taking steps can also have a significant impact on mental health. Accumulating steps throughout the day has been associated with better sleep quality and lower levels of anxiety and depression. This means that taking more steps can lead to a clearer and more focused mind, which is essential for optimal thinking and performance. Isn’t that what I was after in the first place? I even started using step counts to bring some of my clients and athletes back from injury. I could quantify how much activity they did more easily and not risk an injury setback.
But where did the concept of 10,000 steps per day originate? It actually originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, when a pedometer company coined the term "manpo-kei," which means "10,000 steps meter" in Japanese. The company used the term to market their pedometers and encourage people to walk more. Over time, the idea of taking 10,000 steps per day became popularized around the world as a guideline for improving health and physical activity levels.
While the optimal number of steps can vary depending on individual factors such as age, fitness level, and overall health status, the benefits of accumulating steps throughout the day are clear. From reducing the risk of chronic diseases to improving mental health, taking small steps can lead to big rewards for your overall well-being.
So why not start taking steps towards your best today?
Here are my top step recommendations to increase toward 10,000:
- Find out how many steps you currently take daily and what your weekly average is.
- If you know you need more activity and you want to increase your step count start with 1000-2000 steps extra /day (that will take only about 10-20 min of walking)
- Walk when you leave a voice message, when you are in meetings and even when reaching out to new people.
- Walk for at least 10 minutes in the morning, at noon, after work and after dinner (that will give you about 5000 steps without your workout)
- Make it enjoyable! It is an activity, not a workout. It is what the most healthy balanced people do not because they are hypervigilant but rather because they are taking breaks, moving and enjoying life!
Remember, taking steps towards better health is a crucial step in optimizing your physical and mental performance. Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise, so start by setting achievable goals, finding enjoyable ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine, and don't forget to track your progress. Are you ready to take the first step towards a healthier and happier life? Let's do it together!
Karelis AD, et al. Accumulation of steps and cardiometabolic health in sedentary women. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2019 May 14;16(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12966-019-0802-2. PMID: 31088412; PMCID: PMC6519449. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6519449/
Buman MP, et al. Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting With Standing or Walking Attenuates the Postprandial Metabolic Response in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Acute Study. J Phys Act Health. 2021 Mar 1;18(3):313-322. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2020-0103. Epub 2021 Jan 14. PMID: 33443783. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jpah/18/3/article-p313.xml
Loprinzi PD, et al. Associations of objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behavior with sleep quality, anxiety, and depression among college students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Jun 29;15(7):1485. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15071485. PMID: 29966215; PMCID: PMC6069009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069009/
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