10,000 steps a day: what I gained – and lost – walking for five months

On January 2, 2021, a friend told me that his New Years 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 one night celebrating the end of 2020.

When they asked me if I wanted to try the goal with them, I answered with a yes without obligation. After all, it was bitterly cold in New York City, and the idea of ​​aimlessly walking for hours outside did not sound appealing, regardless of the alleged health benefits.

However, a quick glance at my iPhone’s Health app motivated me a bit more, as the built-in pedometer informed me that I had taken an average of 5,361 steps per day in 2020 due to blockages. and working from home amid the pandemic.

Throughout January and February, I made a few timid attempts to reach my goal of 10,000 steps, sometimes wondering how my friend had come to be so devoted to daily exercise. It was one thing to take a daily walk, but walking for the hours it took to reach the count, especially after a day of work from my couch, seemed incredibly intimidating.

By March, I had given up completely, my daily exercise consisting of little more than a trip to the grocery store, or sometimes nothing at all.

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

While it may be superficial to acknowledge that my motivation was a blaze with the changes to my appearance as a result of over a year in various states of lockdown, this was the push I needed to change my way. way of life.

On August 9, I finished my first official day of walking with a step count of 10,200, at which point I was immediately overwhelmed with a migraine so severe that I had to lie down. Day two was no different, making me wonder if my body just wasn’t interested in walking this far, or if the pounding footsteps on the sidewalk had somehow triggered my headaches.

A year without exercise meant I hadn’t thought about the impact that the five mile walk in the August heat could have on my hydration level.

Once I increased my water intake, I found that when it came to health and fitness goals, walking 10,000 steps a day was actually a realistic and achievable goal for someone. who didn’t have much interest in exercising before. .

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

Although I didn’t set my goal of focusing on improving mental well-being, it didn’t take long for me to feel the positive effects of exercise on my overall state of mind.

It may not have been immediately apparent to me, but the time spent indoors during the pandemic has left me, like many others, isolated from the outside world.

When I pushed myself out each day to finish my steps, it reminded me of all the things I had missed about the bustling city, which I could see slowly returning.

The crisp air – or chilly for New York City – and the chance to be outdoors also positively impacted my mental health, while the walks provided an extended opportunity to connect with my friends. and my family, as I turned to my contact list for long phone calls during those long hours.

From now on, every day at 5:45 p.m., a call to one of my contacts triggers the greeting message: “Are you walking?” “

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

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

A recent study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health also found that physical activity is a useful way to prevent depression. 15 minutes of cardiac activity like running, or with one hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower risk of depression ”.

Exercise has also been a reliable stress reliever as I have noticed that I spend much less time trying to fall asleep due to my fatigue from exertion.

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

When I first stepped on the scale, a month after starting the daily walks, I was truly shocked to find that I had lost six pounds. Since I started walking in August, I have lost a total of 15 pounds, a goal I 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 per day will not prevent weight gain, and that step tracking “will not result in weight maintenance or prevention of weight gain. weight gain “.

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

There were also invisible changes in my physical health from walking as it became easy to reach my daily goal and thousands of extra steps without feeling physically tired. A climb that would have left me breathless in July is now no more difficult than a descent of 5th 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 per day is linked to a lower risk of dying regardless. be the cause.

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

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

But despite my consumerist origins, numbers have been a useful goal for me over the past five months as I embarked on a journey to better health.

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