Diabetes Forecast

3 Tips for Raising Your Step Count

By Allison Tsai ,

When you wear an activity tracker, step goals take on new meaning. Suddenly you’re calculating your every move: Walking to the train, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, and getting on the treadmill bring you 2,000 steps closer to your total. Before you know it, you’re more active and motivated to continue your progress.

The goal, according to most activity trackers: 10,000 steps daily. But that may not be attainable for everyone. Large population studies suggest that taking between 8,000 and 12,000 steps a day is associated with better health outcomes compared with less activity. That range is fine if you’re shooting for general physical activity, says John Jakicic, PhD, director of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

For sedentary people over 55 or for those who have mobility issues, 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day is a better target range. “For a lot of people, getting 3,000 more steps than [they’re] getting now is probably a good goal,” says Elizabeth Lyons, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch. That works out to about 30 minutes of exercise daily. Read on for ways to walk yourself to better health.

1. Start Counting.

An easy way to eke out a few more steps is to use a pedometer or other activity tracker. “Just making people aware [of their steps] made them a little bit more active,” Jakicic says about research studies. Without any other health coaching, people using pedometers tend to rack up about 2,000 extra steps per day—about a mile for an average person—according to the research. That distance is a big deal for people who were previously sedentary, says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

2. Gradually Add Steps.

Colberg-Ochs suggests starting small and adding to your step count gradually. For instance, once you’ve established your baseline—let’s say 3,000 steps a day for a week—try to take 3,500 steps a day the following week, increasing by 500 steps each week. This makes the goal more realistic and easier to meet.

3. Think Brisk.

In addition to adding steps, you may want to pick up the pace. Jakicic recommends walking quickly for 10 minutes at a time. “I think the target for [brisk walking] should be about a quarter to a third of your steps,” he says.

Safety Note

Talk to your doctor before making any big changes to your exercise plan.

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