We’ve all been there—marching in place in our bedrooms at 11pm, trying to hit 10,000 steps on our Fitbits by midnight (what, just me?). While that 10,000 step goal isn’t right for everyone, it’s an ideal one for a lot of us—walking has been shown to have major benefits for physical and mental health alike—like improved creativity, lower stress, increased energy, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar and improved memory and cognition.
For many, it’s also a pretty daunting goal. Researchers have found that Americans only take an average of 5,117 steps a day, just over half of the 10,000 steps generally recommended by health experts. Luckily, there are better ways of hitting 10,000 steps—and reaping the health rewards—than walking in place at night and driving your downstairs neighbors insane. Here’s how to hit your step goal every day:
SET THE RIGHT GOAL FOR YOU.
Again, 10,000 steps is a good goal for many when it comes to improved health…but not everyone. Wondering how in the world you’re supposed to work in 10,000 steps in between your 10k training and your Zumba classes? Don’t worry—you don’t necessarily have to. If you’re running three times a week, it’s fine to take a few days off. On the other hand, someone who is generally inactive should aim to walk 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day to improve their fitness.
EASE INTO IT.
Take baby steps when adding steps to your day—if 10,000 steps a day sounds like an impossible goal, just work on increasing your steps by a couple hundred each day, even if you’re starting from zero. Making progress on smaller goals can boost both your mood and your motivation, making you more likely to reach your end goal.
10,000 steps—or the equivalent of almost five miles for most people—may be tough to fit in at the end of the day. So get a head start on your goal first thing in the morning, whether you take over dog-walking duty from your partner, leave 10 minutes early to take a route to work that requires extra walking, or volunteer to do the coffee run before your morning meeting.
Setting a goal is one thing…remembering to stay on top of it is the challenge. “Let’s face it…once we set any goal, we’re not 100% focused on it. We have life obligations, family commitments and urgent tasks that pop up,” writes productivity blogger LJ Earnest. “So our goals get moved to the back by the stuff we are doing day to day.” Set an hourly reminder on your phone to get up and moving—whether that means a long stroll during your lunch break or a few steps to the office coffee machine and back.
HAVE EASY ACCESS TO COMFORTABLE SHOES.
No one wants to take a long stroll in stilettos. Keep walking-friendly shoes at your desk or in a tote bag so you can slip into them after work, during a lunch break or after a night out—no “but my feet hurt!” excuses.
USE WAIT TIME WISELY.
Whether you’re 10 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment or you’re waiting for a friend, use the extra time to work in some walking instead of catching up on your Facebook timeline.
WORK IT INTO YOUR DAY.
You don’t need to completely overhaul your schedule to add more steps into your day—start by adding a bit of walking to the activities you already do. Take the train to work? Walk up and down and platform while you wait. Running errands around your neighborhood? Take a route that tacks on a couple of blocks instead of finding the most efficient way to get from one place to another. It won’t take much noticeable effort or time, but you’ll be more active all the same.
WALK AND TALK.
There’s no rule that every meeting needs to be held in a conference room or that evenings out with friends require a bar stool. Catching up with a coworker? Take it outside instead of hanging out in the break room. Slipping into a pancake coma after brunch with friends? Grab coffee to go and go on a group walk.
CREATE A RITUAL AROUND IT.
Instead of relaxing in the evening with an hour of TV, how about compromising with 30 minutes of TV and a 30-minute walk? Or, if you usually head to the nearest bus stop for your morning commute, leave an extra 10 minutes in the morning to walk to the one a few blocks farther away…making time to stop at your favorite cafe for a latte on the way.