One of our editors stepped up to try walking more for 30 days.
Medically reviewed by Roxana Ehsani, RD
Walking 10,000 steps has been the recommended daily step count for decades.
A 2023 study suggests that walking 8,000 steps a few times a week is enough to improve heart health, lift mood, and lower the risk of early death.
After 30 days of trying out this new routine, I had more stamina while walking and felt energized throughout the day. The most surprising part: I began to look forward to my daily walks.
Thanks to old-school fitness trackers and modern-day watches, walking 10,000 steps daily has long been the gold standard. The first time I learned about the concept of a "daily step count" was 20 years ago when my second-grade teacher explained to a class full of curious 7-year-olds what her pedometer was and why it beeped every hour. That beeping sound was a pesky, but helpful reminder to walk more so she could hit her goal of 10,000 steps per day.
Walking all those steps didn't seem so difficult when I spent my days running around at recess. But now that I'm older and work full-time, getting my steps in is more challenging. That's probably because my idea of physical activity during the workday is taking a stroll downstairs to my kitchen. If you're like me and struggle with reaching your step count, I have good news! A new study found that walking just 8,000 steps can improve heart health, boost mood, and increase lifespan.
But is walking 8,000 steps daily sustainable? And even if it is a doable workout, are the benefits worth it? For me, the answers are yes and yes. Here's what I learned.
How Many Steps Do You Really Need?
You may have heard that walking 10,000 steps (roughly 5 miles or 8 kilometers) is the magic number for optimal health benefits. However, this recommendation wasn't based on any studies, but rather a marketing campaign. Before the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, a Japanese company began advertising a new pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to "10,000 steps meter." Since then, healthcare providers worldwide have endorsed the 10,000 steps per day goal.
While the 10,000-step count might not have initially been rooted in evidence, a recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open found that walking 8,000 steps is enough to reap benefits. Plus, you might not even have to reach this number every day to improve your health. In the same study, experts suggested that walking 8,000 steps a couple of times a week is enough to experience positive health outcomes.
Benefits of Walking
Walking is one of the most basic forms of aerobic activity—also known as "cardio." When you do cardio workouts, your heart rate and breathing increase to pump more blood and oxygen to the rest of your organs and muscles.
It's a common misconception that you'll get more bang for your buck if you try vigorous cardio exercises, like hiking or playing contact sports. But that's not always true. Doing low-impact cardio (like walking) also comes with a variety of health benefits, such as:
Improving sleep and balance
Decreasing the risk of early death
Strengthening bones and muscles
Promoting memory and cognitive (thinking) skills
Supporting weight management
It's worth noting that the physical and mental health benefits of walking are just part of the appeal. Walking is also one of the most affordable and accessible forms of exercise—meaning, you don't need any special equipment, clothing, or a gym membership to get started.
Before You Get Started
Walking is a great way to stay active and spend time outside, but limiting the risk of injury and putting your safety first are essential before you head out the door. Our bodies are unique, which means we all have different needs when it comes to physical activity. Consider the following examples:
If you live with chronic pain, ask your healthcare provider if walking too much can worsen the pain or if there is an alternative step count you should aim for instead.
If you have a neurological condition (like Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis), bone or muscle problems (like arthritis or osteoporosis), or a movement disorder (like cerebral palsy or tardive dyskinesia) that affects your ability to walk, see if your provider recommends any assistive devices that can support you during physical activity and prevent the risk of falls.
If you experience vision or hearing problems that may make it difficult to detect danger, such as oncoming traffic or uneven pavement, talk to your provider about how to keep yourself safe on your walks.
My Walking Journey
From the jump, I was enthusiastic to add easy-to-fit-in walks to my daily routine. I knew I urgently needed a change in my life, and this was a low-lift, potentially high-reward way to get my body moving and my mind unstuck.
A few days before my experiment started, I set these ground rules for myself:
Walking daily: I know, I know—the study said you only need to walk 8,000 steps a couple of times a week. But if I only walked once every few days, I'd procrastinate, make excuses, and get lazy. If I didn't get my steps in, I would have nothing to write for this and that would be so unfair to you! Consistency is key for me, so I opted to take on the daily challenge.
Charging my watch: Keeping track of my steps wouldn't be possible if my Apple Watch was dead. So for the first few days, I set an alarm on my phone to charge my watch before I went to sleep.
Going outside: If you're like me, you have a hate-hate relationship with treadmills. While there's nothing wrong with getting your steps in indoors, I chose the nature route and walked outside for 45 to 60 minutes every day.
Switching up the route: I find that doing the same thing every day gets tedious. I knew I couldn't sustain this new routine if I walked the same path each time I stepped out. Instead, I elected to walk in new directions and explore different parts of my neighborhood for a nice change of pace.
The first step is usually the hardest, but I did my best to keep these daily walks simple and stress-free. On the first day of the challenge, I put time on my calendar to go outside and get moving. This was an easy way for me to be intentional about setting time aside for the walks, and it ended up being a practice I adopted for the rest of the month.
Typically, I started walking sometime between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.—plenty of room to finish my steps while watching the sunset and enough time to squeeze in my post-work nap. To my dismay, sometimes it was too hot outside and I'd have to push these walks back until after dinner when it was dark out. But being flexible is part of the process of accomplishing any goal, so I'd do anything as long as it allowed me to skip the treadmill.
Walking isn't a new activity for me, but my prior walks were sporadic and depended on when my dog, Buddy, and I were both in the mood to go. (Dear reader, he was always ready for his daily runs, but I was not.) Before I left the house, I would grab my AirPods because it was an absolute necessity to listen to music while I was out. I stuck with the same habit for the first few days of this experiment, but quickly made the switch to silent walking—a trend that encourages you to walk without music, podcasts, or phone calls.
Silent walking was a game-changer. As I'm sure many of you can relate, I spend more time than I'd like to on my phone—whether that's keeping up with the news, scrolling through social media, or texting my friends. And even though being chronically online is the status quo right now, I know that checking my phone every 15 minutes isn't good for me. Walking without distractions felt like a meditative practice, which gave me a chance to clear my head and stay in the moment.
I quickly realized how convenient and versatile walking was because there were days when I didn't have to go for a walk, per se. Sometimes, I hit my step count while doing chores, running errands, hanging out around the city, and traveling. Keeping myself busy and finding fun ways to spend time outside made this challenge much easier and more pleasurable than I had originally anticipated.
Of course, there's a bit of an adjustment whenever you start a new activity. Before beginning this experiment, I was walking just short of 5,000 steps a day on average. Nearly doubling that number for a whole month led to soreness in my legs and fatigue, especially during the first week. But over time, the more I walked, the benefits outweighed the temporary side effects.
Now that this month-long challenge has come to end, I'm happy to report that I definitely experienced some of the benefits of walking. Let's start with the positives.
I Was More Active
Unsurprisingly, making time to walk more often increased the number of steps I was taking. Over the course of 30 days, I walked an average of 10,454 steps—a number I was shocked by. To be fair, there are definitely some outliers that inflated the average, as you'll notice on the chart below.
I spent five days traveling, three days waiting in long lines at an amusement park, and two days at a music festival. But overreaching my daily step count on the days I already had plans to be outside made 8,000 steps feel more doable when I was at home.
I Got More Sleep
Keep in mind: I don't wear my watch while sleeping, so I don't have the exact numbers to compare how much rest I was getting before and during this trial. Before starting my walking routine, I'd doze off sometime around midnight—after watching an episode (or two) of the show I was binging at the time.
Since I was walking the majority of my steps in the evenings, I noticed I was getting sleepy even before it was time for bed. Most nights, I didn't even get to finish a TV episode before falling asleep. This was truly a tragedy when trying to figure out where in the season I left off but seemed to be a good indicator that I was sleeping earlier than before. Thanks to the extra sleep, I woke up more refreshed in the mornings and felt energized as the day went on.
My Resting Heart Rate Went Down
Your resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute (BPM) when you're not moving. Generally, a healthy RHR is between 60 to 100 BPM—and having a lower RHR is a sign that your heart is functioning efficiently. The month before my walking experiment, my average RHR was 76 BPM, which later dropped to 72 BPM after 30 days of consistent walking. This change could imply a slight improvement in my heart health.
It's worth noting that I've lived with anemia for most of my life, which is a chronic condition that happens when your body doesn't make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs and tissues. Due to the lack of red blood cells, your heart has to pump out more blood to give your body the oxygen it needs, which often results in a higher RHR. I can't be certain that walking was the only factor that led to a decrease in my RHR, but it sure didn't hurt.
Walking Helped Me Process Grief
Remember Buddy, my dog that loved his daily walks? Earlier this year, he passed away at the age of 13 due to cancer. And to be completely honest, I've had a very difficult time adjusting to living in a world he is no longer physically present in. I stopped going on walks after his passing, mostly because I couldn't bear the agony of taking the same walking routes without him. But I can't avoid grief forever and hope it goes away on its own.
My grief has come with so many emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, and yearning. The research on grief shows that the endorphins you release during physical activity improve mood and build resilience after you experience a loss. So, I used this challenge as a therapeutic way to walk with my pain instead of just sitting with it—and I'm doing better because I gave myself the space and grace to feel however I was feeling.
No fitness regimen is perfect and this one came with its own challenges, namely making the time to get all my steps in.
Whenever you add something new to your daily routine, it often requires you to take something else out of your calendar. I opted to spend less time on my hobbies or replace my regular gym sessions with walks. Despite these trade-offs, there were still days when I didn't meet the step count. Sometimes it was too hot, I was too tired, had other things going on, or just didn't feel like walking that day—and that's OK. Consistency is great, but so is balance.
I also don't believe in the idea of a one-size-fits-all exercise plan. We all have different needs, schedules, and health concerns. That said, walking 8,000 steps a day (or more) can be a rigid goal. What's more important is to find a physical activity that gets you moving, works for your lifestyle, and feels enjoyable.
A Step-by-Step Guide on How To Get Moving
If my experience makes you want to start your own walking routine, you may be wondering if it's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. For most people, walking doesn't require a lot of preparation. Still, creating a plan can set you up for success. Here are some tips that can help you hit your stride:
Pick the right shoes: Walking is almost a free activity. But the one thing that you should invest in is a proper pair of shoes. Look for sneakers with arch support, padding, breathable material, and a good grip. Now make sure they fit. You'll want to check that they're loose enough for your toes to move around, but tight enough to keep your heel in place.
Choose a pace that's best for you: There's nothing wrong with starting slow, especially if walking several thousand steps per day is a new activity for you. A good starting point is to find a pace that lets you talk in complete sentences, but your breathing feels a bit heavier. It can also help to stay within your target heart rate zone—which is the heart rate you should aim for when you're working out. For adults, the average target heart rate varies depending on your age. To learn the target zone that's right for you, check out this chart.
Prioritize your safety: Stay safe on your walks by taking your phone with you, letting a loved one know what route you're using, walking on sidewalks while facing the traffic, staying in well-lit areas, and being aware of your surroundings. If walking with a friend or a family member makes you feel more at ease, ask a loved one if they'd consider joining you on your next stroll.
Track your progress: There are all kinds of devices you can use to keep a count of your steps—like apps on your phone, fitness trackers, watches, and pedometers. Knowing how much you're walking is a great way to monitor your goals and help you stay motivated.
Stay hydrated: Avoid dry mouth and prevent the risk of dehydration by sipping on water before and after your walk. If you're walking for a long time or on a difficult trail, take a water bottle or a hydration pack with you.
Get creative: There will undoubtedly be days when you're just not in the mood to work out (it's OK it happens to all of us!) Make your walks more enjoyable by listening to upbeat music or your favorite podcast, walking with your dog or a loved one, or calling someone you want to catch up with. You can also change up the scenery by walking in a mall or a park or even parking a bit farther away when running errands.
Don't overdo it: The best thing you can do for your body is to listen to it—especially when it's telling you to rest. Skipping your workout to take a rest day can help you feel less sore and tired, prevent you from losing motivation, repair your muscles and tissues, and reduce your risk of getting injured.
The Final Verdict
Walking was my primary form of exercise for a whole month and I loved every aspect of my walks: spending time in fresh air, getting to think without distractions, running into friendly strangers, and reaping the health benefits of my increased steps. But sometimes, walking felt limiting. I'll definitely keep walks in my rotation of physical activity, but I'd also like to dabble in other exercises to keep my routine interesting and I encourage you to find what works for you, too.
Whether I've convinced you to begin your walking journey or my story has inspired you to get moving in other ways, I hope you find joy in your workouts, prioritize your well-being, and remember to take things one step at a time.
Sukhman Rekhi, MA is an editor at Health. Since the pandemic, she's spent less time outside than before. After learning that walking 8,000 steps could have major health advantages, Sukhman wanted to try and see if this new walking recommendation had the benefits it claimed.
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Read the original article on Health.com.