Does a journey to health = 10,000 steps?
I’m a life insurance underwriter, someone who assesses risk related to insurance applications. I have regularly worked from home even prior to businesses making the shift to remote work setups due to the pandemic.
While my work routine has been less impacted by what is going on in the world, working from home is a new reality for many. I personally love the convenience of being able to work from home, but I have come to realize just how sedentary one can become when working at a computer all day in your home, especially these days when leaving the house is limited. I started writing this blog and examining my habits prior to the pandemic but I think now more than ever, these tips for staying active while working from home can be helpful.
How can you combat becoming sedentary while living and working within the same four walls?
Should you keep track of your daily steps? And if so, how many steps should you be hitting in a day?
I’m sure you’ve all heard people talk about the magic number of 10,000 steps per day. Perhaps you’ve seen your family or friends (or even yourself) frantically trying to “get their steps” at the end of the day when they’re falling short of that goal.
One thing I’ve often wondered when seeing or hearing this is why 10,000?
I did a quick Google search to see if I could find an answer. What I found is that, for the most part, there is no real basis for the specific number 10,000, other than that it’s a big round number, and people like big round numbers. It’s significantly more than the average number of steps a person takes per day (less than 5,000 on average for Canadians), yet it’s achievable. Still, it’s large enough it won’t be too easy to reach without changing your habits if you’re one of the 5,000 or fewer steps-per-day people.
How many steps do I take in a day?
I’ve never been one to keep track of or even truly care about how many steps I take in a day, likely because I’m a runner. Surely, I should have no concerns regarding my daily activity when my training weeks often include over 100 km of running.
Out of curiosity, prior to the pandemic, I turned on the activity tracking feature on my running watch, started wearing it all the time, and went about my regular life.
I was shocked to discover how few steps I took in a day when I worked from home and didn’t run. The number was especially surprising on a day when I worked late (which likely also explains why I didn’t run that day).
At the end of one long day, I had taken a whopping 884 steps—eight hundred and eighty-four. I was stunned. How could I have possibly moved that little over the past twelve or so hours?
On days I would go into the office (prior to our office moving to a remote set up), I could easily reach 10,000 steps without doing much more than walking to and from the train. And on days I ran, the total was often around the 20,000-step mark. While I hadn’t given much thought to my activity level when I worked from home, I assumed it would be significantly more than it was. I’m an active person who doesn’t like to sit for extended periods of time but working a desk job changes things.
I vowed that day never to let myself be THAT sedentary all day, even when I’m working.
What was I going to do about it?
To make this change, I needed a plan to prevent myself from falling back into the habit of sitting all day long without getting up to move.
Going for a walk is an obvious option, but there isn’t always time to do that, so I’ve been coming up with little things to do that only take a few minutes. If I do these small things four or five times, it still only adds up to about ten minutes of my day, but I feel better for having done them.
Little things to add activity throughout my day
Little things include bringing my mug back to the kitchen when I finish my coffee, instead of waiting until I go to the kitchen to make lunch. Slightly bigger things include mini–fitness breaks. I’ve been attempting to take them, but to be honest, I haven’t taken them as often as I should. But they do happen more than they used to!
I keep a kettlebell and medicine ball in the same room as my home office so that when I see them, I can pick them up and take a super short one-to-two-minute break to do some kettlebell swings or squats and lunges. I also keep a skipping rope in my kitchen (odd, I know, but once again, I see it) and skip for a minute or so while I’m brewing coffee or toasting a bagel. A word of advice if you do start skipping/jumping rope: wear shoes. I’ve learned from experience that when that plastic rope hits your toes, it hurts!
Sometimes, I just walk up and down the stairs a few times.
Should I be aiming for steps or activity?
Of the strategies I’d been using, I realized that some of them (squats, for example) do not involve “steps” I can add to my total count. This realization led to another question: Is it more important to hit a step goal or to have enough active minutes in a day? I think it ultimately depends on what motivates you, but if striving for 10,000 steps doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps alternate goals or incentives will.
Quealth is one digital platform that encourages healthy activity, not just a step count. Focused on insurers and employers, the platform reinforces good habits and consistent activity by calculating the positive impact of movement. Instead of points or counts, it highlights the positive long-term impact of activity by sharing how many healthy days those choices can add to your life.
You can access many options beyond step goals from your smartphone. Odds are your cell phone came with an app that can track activity, such as Samsung Health or Apple Health. Active 10 is another app that tracks brisk walking activity. However, instead of steps, it stresses the importance of consistency and getting in at least ten minutes of activity per day. Brisk walking is great since most people can do it, it requires no gym equipment, and it can be done anywhere, anytime.
So… which is better?
Anything that gets you moving is good, but if your steps are on the leisurely side, including more vigorous activity could help your journey to becoming a healthier person.
If fitting in small fitness breaks throughout your day is what works best for you, consider following a routine similar to the Active 10 approach. Take a few minutes here and there just to exercise by going on a ten-minute walk, or by doing some bodyweight or plyometric exercises. If tracking steps is what you know and love, there’s absolutely no reason to stop. Just be sure to pick up the pace every once in a while!