What I gained (and lost) from walking 10,000 steps a day for five months

On January 2, 2021, a friend told me that his New Year’s resolution was to walk 10,000 steps a day. It was the dead of winter and I was still feeling the effects of a champagne hangover from a night celebrating the end of 2020.

When they asked me if I wanted to try the goal with them, I said yes without commitment. After all, it was freezing cold in New York City, and the idea of ​​wandering aimlessly for hours outside didn’t sound appealing, no matter the purported health benefits.

However, a quick glance at my iPhone’s Health app got me a little more motivated, as the built-in pedometer told me I’d walked an average of just 5,361 steps per day in 2020 as a result of the lockdowns and working from home in between. of the pandemic

Throughout January and February, I made a few halfhearted attempts to complete my 10,000 step goal, sometimes questioning how my friend had found himself so dedicated to daily exercise. It was one thing to go for a walk every day, but walking for the hours necessary to meet the number, especially after a day’s work from my couch, seemed incredibly daunting.

By March, I had given it up completely, and my daily exercise consisted of little more than a trip to the supermarket, or sometimes nothing at all.

In August, however, two things changed: I saw my friend for the first time in months, at which point I witnessed his 50-pound weight loss in person, and I stepped on the scale for the first time in a year.

While it may be superficial to acknowledge that my motivation was prompted by the changes in my appearance as a result of over a year in various states of lockdown, it was the push I needed to change my lifestyle.

On August 9, I completed my first official day of hiking with a step count of 10,200, at which point I was immediately hit by a migraine so severe I had to lie down. The second day was no different, leading me to wonder if my body just wasn’t interested in walking so much, or if the heavy footsteps on the pavement had somehow triggered my headaches.

A year without exercise meant I hadn’t considered the impact walking five miles in the August heat could have on my hydration levels.

Once I increased my water intake, I discovered that when it comes to health and fitness goals, walking 10,000 steps a day was actually a realistic and achievable goal for someone who hasn’t had much of an interest in exercise before. . .

From a noticeable improvement in my mental health to a 15-pound weight loss, here’s what I experienced during my five months of walking 10,000 steps a day.

While I didn’t set my goal with a focus on improving mental wellness, it didn’t take long for me to feel the positive effects of exercise on my overall mindset.

It may not have been immediately apparent to me, but the prolonged amount of time indoors during the pandemic had left me, like many others, feeling cut off from the outside world.

As I forced myself to go outside every day to complete my steps, it reminded me of all the things I had missed about the bustling city, which I witnessed slowly return.

The fresh air, or fresh for New York City, and the opportunity to be outdoors also had a positive impact on my mental health, while the walks allowed for a greater opportunity to connect with friends and family, as I turned to my contact list for long phone calls during these long hours.

Now, every day at 5:45 p.m., a call to any of my contacts elicits the greeting: “Are you walking?”

While the positive mental impacts of exercise were new to me, considering I’ve preferred a sedentary lifestyle for much of the past 27 years, the effects are well-documented by researchers.

According to a 2011 study on the associations between physical activity and mental health, exercise at any level is associated with better mental and physical health. Although I usually try to maintain a constant speed of 3.2 mph, there are days when I celebrate achieving my goal.

A recent Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health study also found that physical activity is a helpful way to prevent depression, with the researchers finding that “being more physically active seems to protect against the development of depression,” and that “Replacing sitting with 15 minutes of vigorous activity such as running, or with one hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was associated with a lower risk of depression.”

Exercise has also been a reliable stress reliever, as I’ve noticed that I spend much less time trying to fall asleep as a result of my exhaustion from physical exertion.

In addition to improving my mental health, walking has also had a noticeable impact on my appearance over the last five months, with my legs and arms noticeably slimmer and the appearance of cellulite on my thighs has diminished.

When I first got on the scale, a month after starting daily walks, I was shocked to discover that I had lost six pounds. Since I started walking in August, I have lost a total of 15 pounds, a goal I have managed to achieve without making any significant changes to my diet.

Interestingly, my experience contradicts a 2020 study, which found that walking 10,000 steps a day will not prevent weight gain and that tracking steps “will not translate to maintaining weight or preventing weight gain.”

At the time, the researchers suggested the findings showed that “exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight.”

There have also been unseen changes in my physical health from walking, as it has become easy to complete my daily goal and thousands of extra steps, without feeling physically strained. An uphill walk that would have taken my breath away in July is now no more difficult than a stroll down Fifth Avenue.

According to previous research, exercise also has the added benefit of improving my overall health, with a 2020 study finding that taking 8,000 to 12,000 steps a day is linked to a lower risk of dying from any cause.

A 2019 study also found that among older women, those who walked 4,400 steps a day had lower death rates than those who walked less.

However, while common health and weight loss theory suggests we should strive for 10,000 steps a day, 10,000 is actually an arbitrary number believed to have been chosen by a Japanese watch company in the 1990s. 1960 to sell pedometers.

But despite its consumerist origins, the number has been a useful goal for me over the past five months as I embark on a journey of better health.

For more information on how to walk, check out our 10 Best Walking Shoes That Make Hikes A Walk In The Park

This article was originally published in January 2022

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