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features & articles : Fit Walking into Your Life: Shoot for 10k a Day

The Program
The goal of taking 10,000 steps in a day is a rough equivalent to the Surgeon General's recommendation to accumulate 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. Here's a simple approach to reaching 10K a day. First, invest in a pedometer (see where to get one, below). Put a safety string through the pedometer's waist clip and pin it or loop it through a belt loop, so the pedometer isn't dropped down a toilet.
Now follow the simple three-week program below. The first week, don't change your life at all; just learn your baseline average daily step total. Then, for the next two weeks try to boost that average by 20%. Be sure to follow the directions and fill in the simple log-it's critical to helping you learn what adds steps to your day and what detracts.

Reading an analog pedometer: To read the two hands on an anolog pedometer, imagine that they're the hands on a clock. The short hand is for THOUSANDS of steps (like hours), the long hand is for HUNDREDS of steps (like minutes). The long hand counts 100, 200, 300 steps, etc. When it has gone all the way around once (999 steps), the short hand will have just gotten to 1 (for 1,000 steps). The second time around, the long hand counts 1,100, 1,200, and 1,300. When it completes the second circuit, the short hand is at 2 (for 2,000 steps). How many steps have you taken if the long hand is about halfway between the 7 and the 8, and the long hand is almost to the 5? Answer: About 7,500.

Open our printable walking diary and use it to record your progress.

open log

Week 1: The goal is to measure your steps in a typical week. Don't try to walk more than normal. Each morning, reset the pedometer to "0." Set it to show steps (ignore distance and calorie counts). Keep it closed and attached to the front of your waist to the left or right of center. Wear it all day from the moment you wake up until going to bed, except when immersed in water. At night remove it, record the number of steps you've taken in the log, and note if you did any formal exercise (wear your pedometer then, too); for example, "20 minute treadmill walk." Also note if anything caused more (museum tour) or fewer (all-day meeting) steps than usual in your day. Attach your pedometer to your shoe if you bicycle and the pedometer doesn't seem to count your pedaling.

Week 2: Your goal is to boost your average daily steps by 20%. Add the total steps taken in week one and divide by seven. Then multiply by 1.2. The result is your new target number for daily steps. So, if you averaged 3,000 steps a day in week one, try for 3,600 a day in week two. How you reach your goal is up to you. Most physical activity counts, including formal workouts (a brisk walk, using most exercise machines) and informal exercise (taking the stairs instead of the elevator or even pacing on the subway platform).

Week 3: If you haven't reached 10,000 steps, or if your goal is substantial weight loss (for which many experts recommend 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day), then boost your steps again by 20%. Calculate your second week's daily average and multiply by 1.2. If aerobic fitness is a goal, try boosting the speed of at least 2,000 to 4,000 of the steps you're already doing.

What next?
Many people find that just with two weeks of effort they've gotten their daily step average close to or beyond 10,000. Even if you only try for 20% more each week, you'll soon find that your days are full of opportunities for more steps. You'll also find that in short order you won't need a pedometer to tell you how you're doing. For example, if you get off the train a stop early or take a walk at lunch you know you'll hit the total, but otherwise you come up short. But use your pedometer whenever you need a step-check.

Answers to some common questions:

How’d they come up with the goal of walking 10,000 steps per day?
It takes roughly 2,000 steps to walk a mile. In normal daily activity most people cover about 2 to 3 miles, depending on how active they are. That accounts for about 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day for reasonably active people. That means they need to come up with at least another 4,000 steps in a day to reach 10,000. That’s about two miles worth, or for somebody walking at a brisk pace--voila--about a 30-minute walk! So the 10,000 step daily goal is roughly analogous to the Surgeon General’s recommendation to accumulate at least 30 minutes of additional activity (beyond normal daily life) most days of the week. Remember, the 10,000 step recommendation is your total accumulation of activity throughout the day; the Surgeon General’s 30 minute recommendation refers to additional activity, over and above normal daily life.

But there’s a problem with the 10,000 step goal. If you happen to be someone who doesn’t take many steps in normal daily life—working at a desk, say, or driving a taxi—then you should initially adjust your goal downward. If you normally average 3,000 steps a day, then your initial goal might be to try to reach 4,000 or 5,000 steps a day. When you’ve mastered that, work up to 7,000 and then eventually 10,000.

Bottom Line: 10,000 steps is very roughly five miles of walking; it’s also approximately the amount of daily physical activity that’s been shown to reduce risk for chronic disease and an early death in large epidemiological research studies. It’s a good eventual goal, but if you’ve been fairly inactive lately (averaging fewer than 6,000 steps a day), don’t jump right up to a 10K a day goal. Instead, use the "20% Boost" approach (at top).

Where do I get a pedometer?
Yamax digital pedometers, called Digiwalkers, are recognized to be one of the most accurate and consistent lines of pedometers. They can be found in many sporting goods stores as Digiwalkers, or as Accusplit Eagle digital pedometers (the same product with a different name). For direct sales or for bulk pricing, contact New Lifestyles at 888-748-5377; www.digiwalker.com; or Accusplit, at (800) 935-1996; www.accusplit.com. Accusplit also markets simple but reliable analog pedometers; slightly less accurate than the digital devices, but ideal for bulk purchases and as prizes, since they retail for about $10. (Put a safety string through the pedometer's waist clip and pin it or loop it through a belt loop, so the pedometer isn't dropped down a toilet.)

Does bicycling count?
The beauty of bikes is that they're very quick and efficient. But that means your energy expenditure per mile can be much lower than walking. For simplicity sake, attach your pedometer to your shoe, and let it count the pedal strokes while riding. (Attaching to the shoe is also an option for people who find that a pedometer worn on the waistband doesn't record their steps consistently, perhaps because of a high waist.) Counting pedal strokes will result in far fewer steps than if you walked the same distance. But if you think in terms of time invested (a 20 minute ride compared to a 20 minute walk), by pedaling the whole time you can still get a similar number of steps in for a given amount of time. If your count is low (say, you get 2,000 steps in 20 minutes of walking, but only 1,000 pedal strokes in 20 minutes of riding), then there's a good chance you're spending a lot of time coasting on the bike. Focus on keeping your feet moving, just as when walking.

How far have I been walking?
If you want to know not just the number of steps you've taken, but the distance as well, you can calibrate a pedometer. The simplest way is to wear it while walking a known distance, such as once around a quarter-mile track, at your normal walking speed. Then multiply that number of steps by four, and you know your typical number of steps per mile. (For greater accuracy, you should walk a full mile-four times around the track). Now, anytime you want to estimate the distance you've walked, just divide the total number of steps you've taken by your "steps per mile" calibration. Keep in mind it's just an estimate, because the length of your stride increases as you walk faster. So, on faster walks you'll be underestimating the distance somewhat, and on slower walks you'll overestimate a bit.

Some pedometers allow you to enter your step length (based on a calibration walk) and they will calculate your walking distance automatically. Fancier models will even estimate the calories you burn if you enter your body weight as well. But don't count on these calorie estimates to be particularly accurate, given the wide variation of fitness levels and personal physiology of individuals.

Jan wears her pedometer for a walk around the quarter-mile school track-it counts 473 steps. She multiplies by four, to estimate that she takes about 1892 steps a mile. (For easier math, she calls it 1900 steps.) Another day she takes a walk and covers 6,685 steps. Jan divides 6,685 by 1900, and gets 3.52, or about three and a half miles walked.
To calculate a step length, divide the known distance you've walked in feet by the number of steps you've taken. A quarter mile walk is 1,320 feet long (a mile is 5,280 feet). So Jan divides 1,320 feet by her 473 steps, and learns each step is 2.79 feet long. Now she can enter that in the pedometer.