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Coaches Blog

10,000 Steps: The Myth and the Truth

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

What’s the obsession with 10,000 daily steps? I recently asked a boot camp class if walking 10,000 steps was fitness-based. I had five different answers from the group about why every human should get in 10,00 daily steps. A couple of the ideas were valid, but no one knew if the goal of 10,000 daily steps was designed as a fitness-based metric.


Here it is: It started out as a marketing ploy by a Japanese company that manufactured a pedometer called the Manpo-kei, which essentially means 10,000 steps. Ten thousand was a nice round number; walking was an easy physical activity that allowed you to move your body and spend time with friends and family.


After all that, the real question is: can we use the 10,000 steps to our advantage? I say YES, as long as those steps are PURPOSEFUL. We have to make those steps count! Going out for a brisk walk or going out for a run counts as purposeful steps. Sitting on your couch, moving your arm back and forth so that your Apple watch thinks you’re walking so you can close those pesky fitness rings? Not purposeful (and not even walking). Marching in place in the corner of your room to close the rings on your watch is also not purposeful.


Here’s an example of what I mean. I have a friend that works in a school, and her job is primarily sedentary. However, she does get up from time to time to go to the printer or goes outside to observe recess or wander the halls. After a few weeks of 10,000 daily steps, the person was flummoxed about why she wasn’t losing weight.


My first question about her steps was, “were they purposeful?” I followed up with the questions, “did your heart rate increase? Were you breathing heavily?” The answer was no. While the number itself is fine, the action attached to it wasn’t strategic or purposeful.


If using step count to help lose weight, you gotta move.with.a.PURPOSE! And then there’s the nutrition piece (not going there in this blog post!).


The example above is a ‘most-case’ scenario. Here’s a one-off scenario. I have a friend who needed a new lung and had to walk a set distance in a set time as part of the pre-surgery criteria. Do you think it was a significant improvement when she could walk 2,000 steps instead of 1,000? Absolutely! Did her heart rate increase? Yes. Did she breathe heavier? Yes. My opinion? Hers were purposeful steps.


The idea here is - don’t get too bogged down in a number (yes, that means turn off the ‘I have to get in x number of steps’ ring on your watch). I’m looking for you to flip the script!


Instead of focusing on step count, get active! Do activities that make you feel good. Focus on having a diverse range of activities - gardening, cycling, swimming, playing football or basketball, taking a HIIT class. Most of your exercise activities should get your heart rate elevated - even gardening can do that if you’re lugging dirt, grass, or trees around! Can exercise activities include walking? Yes, but it should never be stressful, and if you don’t reach a certain number of steps, it shouldn’t be demoralizing.


Happy training!

 

Coach Maria Netherland is a Northwest Florida-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Youth & Juniors Certified Coach as well as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist. Coach Maria loves working for athletes of all abilities, military athletes, and new triathletes as they pursue their goals. Maria is a veteran of the US Army and a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate. She can be reached at maria@teammpi.com.

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