10,000 Steps

10,000 Steps

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Getting started

The mission of Shape Up America! is to provide you with solid science-based information on weight management. Over the years, the Surgeon General has warned Americans about the hazards of cigarette smoking or a high cholesterol level in your blood. In 1996, the Surgeon General warned us that regardless of our age, we are just not active enough. You may wonder just how much activity would make the Surgeon General happy. Our purpose here is to clarify how much exercise is necessary to manage your weight and to introduce the 10,000 steps program.

Exercise and Health

The Surgeon General’s recommendation for physical activity is to add about 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity each day ON TOP of your customary daily activities. This recommendation is a health recommendation — it is designed to improve your health. But is this enough activity to prevent weight regain after a weight loss program? Is it enough activity to prevent overweight in the first place? No. Studies show it is not likely to be enough for either purpose.

For Weight Management — How Much is Enough?

So how much activity is enough for weight management? For weight management, studies suggest that walking 10,000 steps a day is the right activity ball park to be in. This amount of activity will help prevent weight gain (or weight re-gain if you have lost weight). It can also help you with weight loss, but keep in mind that to achieve significant weight loss it is necessary to reduce the amount of food you eat. For more information about weight loss, visit the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen. You can purchase a simple pedometer to track your steps. You don’t need a fancy one that tracks miles walked or calories burned. Purchase a basic model that is usually least expensive — costing less than $30. For the pedometer you select, follow the instructions for its use (instructions).

After wearing the pedometer for a week or so, you will learn about your customary activity level. In general, most of us take anywhere from 900 to 3000 steps in a day and not much more. It is pretty nearly impossible to get in 10,000 steps in a day without intentionally going out for a walk (or getting on a treadmill).

Here is how to get started on the 10,000 steps program:

  • To avoid injury, you need to work up slowly. If you have any concerns about your joints (ankles, knees or hips) discuss your exercise plans with your physician.
  • You will need a good pair of sneakers. We prefer a running shoe with plenty of cushion. If you start walking 10,000 steps a day, to avoid injury, replace your sneakers every six months
  • Start out by wearing the pedometer each day for two weeks and don’t do anything to change your normal routine. At day’s end, log your steps. Do this every day for the entire two-week period. At the end of the second week, take a look at how many steps you are taking each day in the course of living your life. Perhaps on some days it is as few as 900 steps in a day and on other days, it may be as high as 3000 steps.
  • Select the highest number of steps you have walked on any given day and use that number of steps as your daily step goal. Feel free to select a smaller number of steps as your goal if you prefer. To avoid injury, do not select a higher number. Aim for your step goal each day for the next two weeks. Let’s assume your first step goal is 2500 steps. That means that for the next two weeks, you are going to try to walk 2500 steps each day. Before bedtime each night, be sure to log in the number of steps you actually took.
  • At the end of that two-week period, review all the steps you took each day and decide if you are ready to add another 500 steps to your goal. Your new step goal is now 3000 steps a day for the next two-week period.
  • Continue in that manner, working up as slowly as you wish, until you finally reach the goal of 10,000 steps a day.
  • Check with your physician if you experience any pain or discomfort that concerns you. Pain is a warning signal that something may be wrong. Our goal is to keep you active for the rest of your life. So don’t go overboard and pull a muscle that will put you out of commission. Take it slow. Take it easy.

I Hate to Walk, But I Like To ….

If you don’t like to walk but you like to jog or run — Go ahead and get your steps in with jogging or running. A pedometer can track your steps whether you are moving slow or fast. If you use special exercise equipment or if you like to bicycle, swim or kayak, your pedometer will not keep track of your activity. Although it is more expensive, a Fitbit may help you keep track of other types of activity. Even on a stair stepper or stair climber in the gym, it was not accurate. But not to worry, you can “translate” your “step goal” into an equivalent “time goal” for your favorite activity. Any moderate intensity activity (swimming, bicycling, etc.), sustained for 15 – 20 minutes, will burn about 100 calories. That is the equivalent of walking 2000 steps (which also burns about 100 calories).

After I have reached my goal, what then?

Whether it is 10,000 steps or some other activity, if you are reaching your daily activity goal pretty regularly, here is what you need to know:

  • It takes about six months to “lock in” a new behavior. Aim to do what is necessary to change your exercise behavior permanently. Be prepared to dedicate yourself to your daily goal each day for a minimum of six months. If you do that, you are much more likely to maintain this goal permanently.
  • If you skip a few days due to illness, work or other obligations, the sooner you get back into the exercise groove, the more likely you will be able to get back into your routine.
  • If you continue to skip days, you will discover it is a downward spiral. The more days you skip, the more likely you will abandon your program altogether.
  • If you can get back in the groove and exercise two days in a row, you will discover that the third day of exercise will be easier to achieve.
  • If you are starting to get bored, we suggest you start keeping an exercise log so you can monitor yourself. A log can be motivating. Use music or a podcast to make your exercise routine more interesting or productive.
  • If you are keeping a log but still struggling with boredom, you may need a wider variety of activities. Try designing a more comprehensive fitness program for yourself. We can help you design such a program if you visit our Fitness Center
  • Feel free to contact SUA if you have any questions that are not covered below

As another hedge against boredom, consider finding a buddy to exercise with or locate a few buddies you can call upon to join you from time to time. But don’t let a flagging commitment on the part of your buddy influence your commitment to your goals. Be prepared to carry on alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you convert time on a bike to steps? I have a Schwinn airdyne.

If you have a Schwinn airdyne that has a calorie readout, then all you need to know is that walking one mile is equivalent (approximately) to burning 100 calories. If you exercise on your Schwinn airdyne long enough to burn 100 calories, that is like walking 2000 steps. To burn the equivalent of walking 10,000 steps, you would have to exercise long enough to burn 500 calories.

I would like to know that if you walk 10,000 steps, how many miles is that?

Walking 10,000 steps is the approximate equivalent of walking 5 miles. The distance covered depends on the length of your stride. That is why it is approximate.

I would like to include using a pedometer to my fitness program. My question is, I wear dresses to work nearly every day. What is the best way to attach the pedometer to the dresses? So far everything I have tried has resulted in inaccurate step counts.

I have had luck attaching my pedometer to a belt which I wear over a dress or anything else that does not have a firm waistband. Some pedometers should be clipped to the belt firmly and the belt buckled securely so it won’t move around. The pedometer should be worn in a location above the hip so that it can detect the leg movement. Other devices (such as a Fitbit) are more flexible and can be worn on the wrist.


 Download Get Up and Go! 10,000 Steps a Day (pdf)