Is 10,000 steps a realistic goal or pie in the sky?

A few years ago someone gave me a pedometer and challenged me to do the famous 10,000-steps-a-day challenge that some fitness gurus spruik.

I was a little younger and thought it would be a shoe-in.

How wrong I was. Even going to the gym every day, walking my dogs and doing the housework got me nowhere near the 10,000 mark. I was lucky to reach 7,000 steps.

On the days I caught the train into Sydney from the Central Coast where I lived it was even worse. Even if I went for a walk at lunchtime, I was lucky to do a few thousand. 10,000 steps, I discovered, was actually around eight kilometres, so one heck of a lot of walking.

I was initially really disappointed, and went to have a chat with one of the personal trainers at the gym about it.

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She told me the 10,000 steps challenge was something made up by a marketing guru way back in the 1960s and the challenge bore no resemblance to what was reasonable for an older person, particularly if you were starting to exercise after a long lay-off or had injuries you had to work around.

“Okay, what is reasonable?” I asked her.

Her suggestion was to work out what I could reasonably achieve on a good day and to try and achieve that magic figure on more days and gradually increase my goal as my fitness increased.

Her advice was backed up by my online research, including comments made by a female doctor who had tried the 10,000-step challenge.

Her research showed that workplace walking challenges are known for attracting the already physically active employees and sidelining the ones who find 10k steps too lofty a goal.

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“There is a silver lining, though. When people are given pedometers to measure their steps and given a goal to reach, like 10,000 steps, they do increase their walking,” she said. “One study showed an increase of about 2000 steps or a mile. And this improvement was associated with a statistically significant, although small, loss in weight and decrease in blood pressure.

“What’s key to note is that the 2000-step increase didn’t necessarily get people to the 10,000-step goal. But it did get them health benefits. That extra walking can counter the ill effects of sitting at a desk all day. And increasing physical activity is good for lots of illnesses: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, prediabetes/diabetes, osteoporosis and depression.”

I took this advice, made my goals a little more realistic, and by the end of a few months was walking a lot more every day than before I started the challenge. The key, I found, was setting myself achievable goals and to forgive myself if I occasionally didn’t quite make it because of time constraints or because an old injury was flaring up. This meant I didn’t just give up altogether in frustration and get stuck into that packet of TimTams. Instead, I learned to give myself a pat on the back for what I did achieve and try and build on it.

Do you walk to keep fit? And, if so, how long and far do you walk and how often?