Calling all couch potatoes: let’s increase our daily steps to have fun & get healthy!

We are all aware that walking is the easiest, least expensive and most effective way of getting and keeping fit! If the benefits of walking came in a pill, we would all take it.  So what’s stopping you? All you need is a pair of good walking shoes and to head out your front door.  The rest is up to you.  The beauty is you can go at a pace that suits you, the distance you want to, and in the surrounds you enjoy most.

The answer to getting healthier is to get moving every day and, over time, increase your distance and/or duration.  Here are 16 easy and fun ways you can do this:

1. Track your steps

What gets measured gets done! It’s great, therefore, to know how many steps you’ve walked. Buy yourself a pedometer or fitness-tracker and wear it every day. For the first week, simply track the steps that you take in order to get a base level. Then you can gradually increase them. It’s amazing how tracking your steps encourages you to move more – you’ll find you want to get to the next 100, 500 or 1,000 steps. Some of the fitness-trackers have a reminder to move every hour and vibrate slightly as you get near the hour to remind you to get up and move. This is a fantastic tool for the more sedentary beings – even getting up and walking around your office or house a few times is much better for you than just sitting.

2. Set a goal of some sort

Setting a goal is a great way to increase your steps. Make sure it is manageable and realistic, yet a bit of a stretch. It could be a weekly goal, which you can achieve in different amounts each day, or a daily goal.  If you’re not currently a big walker, I find it’s a good idea to set a minimum daily goal, so that you’re motivated to even step around the house to reach the goal if you haven’t been active enough.

The most touted daily goal is 10,000 steps, however, there is no scientific evidence to this. In 1965, a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates as “10,000 steps meter”, was released by the Japanese company, Yasama Clock. The Japanese character for 10,000 looks quite like a person walking or running! The number stuck, however, and today it is still the covetted # of steps targetted by many.

The ideal number of steps for optimal health is likely to vary based on age, height, gender and weight.  I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist at Harvard University School of Public Health, did her own research and found that, for older women, a mere 4,400 steps daily lowered their risk of death. The benefit tapered off at about 7,500.  Others such as Dr Michael Mosley have also debunked the myth of the 10,000 steps, so do it if you can, but don’t feel like a failure if you can’t get there. It’s about doing something active that you enjoy and can sustain.

It is also good to set a time goal – 30 minutes is a healthy goal every day or for at least five days a week. You can always do more if you want to once you’re out and about. Time goals can be great if you’re not very fit. You can walk for 30 minutes, including stops as you need to. Then, as you get fitter, you’ll find yourself going further in your 30 minutes. If you can’t manage 30 minutes, you can do it in bursts throughout the day, for example, two lots of 15 minutes, or three lots of 10 minutes. Be aware, that if your plan is to lose some weight, you’ll need to walk for longer than 30 minutes some days. Build it up gradually to 45 minutes or an hour.

3. Dance to music

One of the best ways to increase your steps is to do some exercise you enjoy. Dancing is certainly one of these! Just put on some favourite music and dance as if no-one is watching! Do this for a song for six waking hours or several songs in one or two hits. You’ll have so much fun, it won’t even feel like you’re working out!

4. Get a dog

It’s often easier to do something good for others rather than ourselves, so getting a dog is great as you’ll need to exercise him/her, once or twice a day.  It’s also quite social as you’ll get to meet other dog pawrents along the way – doggos can be a great icebreaker! Only do this, however, if you’re prepared to have and love them for their whole life.  If you’re not, you might like to offer walking someone else’s dog.

5. Find a walking partner or group

You’ll think twice about letting someone else down, so walking with a friend or joining a walking group is a great trick.  When you’d rather just sit on the sofa, this will provide extra motivation to get up and go walking as promised. Talking along the way takes your mind off your actual walking, and you’ll often find you’ll walk for longer when with someone else. You’ll look forward to catching up with others, and can walk in different areas for variety.

6. Use a shopping trolley

This is good if you’re not very fit yet, or have other mobility issues such as arthritis or being overweight. Go to a shopping centre, grab a trolley and go for a shop or window shop. The trolley can take part of your weight and you’ll walk much further than you would on your own. As you get fitter, you’ll be able to let go of the trolley for some of the walking and eventually for all of it. Fitness conquered!

7. Visit an area of interest

Make a list of places you’d like to visit, such as a village, river, coastline, view or jetty, then walk to them and gradually tick them off your list. You’ll get to see lots of interesting places as you get fit!  Drive or catch a bus to a place, and then walk from there. You’ll be entranced by the beautiful spots you see and won’t notice the physicality of walking so much.

8. Stop along the way

Remember, you don’t have to compete with anybody, so if you get tired, stop along the way and find a rock, stone fence or bench to sit on to catch your breath. It’s lovely to look around you and appreciate your surroundings. After a break, get up again and you’ll have more energy to keep going. You can do this as many times as you wish to walk further and further.

9. Get a standing desk or a desk ball

Desk jobs can be so bad for our health if we’re not careful, and we need to remind ourselves to move regularly. Getting a standing desk can be great for you and you’re more likely to move around. Sitting on a desk ball is also good as you need to use your core to remain upright on it. Get up and walk around when you’re on the telephone or a teleconference.

10. Walk around the block at lunch

Don’t stay in the office for lunch, even if you’ve brought your own. Getting outdoors, getting some Vitamin D, and going for even a short walk improves your posture, helps tone your muscles and fills your body and brain with more oxygen. Where are some pretty parks or fountains you can walk to? Even walking around the block will help increase your steps and mood.

11. Park further away

Isn’t it strange how we’ll drive around a carpark for ages trying to get a park right near the shops, yet this takes so much more time and most of us want to increase our steps!  So from now on, why not take the first parking spot further away and get a bit of a walk in? This can also work for public transport. If you take the bus, get off a stop earlier than you need to and walk the extra distance.

12. Walking meetings

The first time I went on a ‘walking meeting’ was in Durango, Colorado, about 15 years ago when I was on a business trip.  I needed to talk to a colleague and she suggested a walk by the river in the crisp autumn air.  It was beautiful and I came back much more invigorated! It’s not suitable for every kind of meeting, but definitely worth contemplating, particularly if it’s just two or three of you and you don’t need to take notes.

13. Sign up for a challenge

There are always challenges about for walking or running, either as a challenge in themselves such as as a certain distance, or to raise money for a charitable cause. These might be a single event or conducted at your own pace and convenience over a period of time. They’re a great excuse to get out and increase your steps for your own satisfaction or to help a cause.

14. Do a YouTube workout

Sometimes when the weather’s bad, we don’t want to go out in the rain or wind. But that doesn’t mean we have to slack off.  There are loads of interesting workouts (many for free) on YouTube that can get you moving. They are for all levels of fitness so make sure you choose one that’s at the right level for you. This can also be good if you live alone, as you feel like you have some company at the same time!

15. Take the stairs

It’s interesting how so many of us stand in front of a lift and wait for ages for it to arrive, just to go up a few levels. So often it’s quicker to take the stairs, and certainly much healthier, yet it never really occurs to us. So now I’ve reminded you, make it your default to take the stairs on most occasions!

16. Visit a museum, art gallery or exhibition

Why not visit a museum, art gallery or the latest exhibition to learn more about a topic and get some steps in! You’ll be so interested by what you’re looking at, the walking will feel incidental. Doing this at least once a month will increase your steps and educate you!

Health benefits

Walking does wonders for your overall health. It is generally low impact and you’re therefore unlikely to do yourself harm. If you walk regularly, you will increase your cardiovascular health; reduce your risk of stroke, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and dementia; strengthen your bones; tone your muscles, and reduce body fat. You can reduce health indicators such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high blood glucose, and improve flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. It is also good for your mental health – getting outdoors, visiting nature and walking can be beneficial for depression and anxiety.  You can read more about the health benefits here:

Go at the pace you can and over time, aim to walk as briskly as possible. This means you should still be able to talk, though not sing, and you might puff a little from time to time.

So come on fellow couch potatoes – let’s break a sweat AND some sedentary habits!