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Exercise should be a key element in any wellness routine—but unfortunately, not everyone has the time to pull away from their desks, let alone complete a 60-minute sweat sesh three times a week. But if there’s one thing anyone can more easily incorporate into a busy schedule, it’s walking 10,000 steps per day.
You’ve surely heard this recommendation before, but you might be wondering where that number even came from. According to a new study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was derived from a Japanese marketing strategy. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and it gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter,’” lead researcher I-Min Lee told The Atlantic.
While the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t specifically recommend this exact number of steps per day, it does suggest getting at least 30 daily minutes of moderate physical activity and refraining from being sedentary. While there might not be a magic number to help up your fitness game, 10,000 steps is a great goal to have if you want to be more mindful of your health. So what really happens when you walk those steps?
After One Day
If you don’t normally consider yourself an active person, Darria Long—an ER physician, clinical professor at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, and author of the national best-selling book Mom Hacks—says that walking 10,000 steps after one day “will help you fall asleep a lot faster than you normally would that evening. You may even notice that [your muscles are] a little bit sore when you wake up the next morning.”
While you may want to jump the gun and hit your daily goal on the first day, John M. Giurini, DPM, chief of the Division of Podiatric Surgery at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, recommends gradually leaning into this new activity and wearing proper running- or jogging-style shoes to provide better support for your feet.
After One Week
“When you increase your physical activity for a week, it creates a cascade of beneficial hormones that not only help you lose weight, but also send blood flow to your brain and major organs,” says Long. Basically, the combination of being more active and sleeping better will improve your memory and make you feel more alert and focused. However, this also depends on the time of day you decide to take a walk. Long says that if you do it during the afternoon, you may find yourself having more energy during your normal 2 p.m. slump.
After One Month
At this point in time, walking 10,000 steps will start to become a habit—and it can lead to other healthy habits. “We know from many studies, people who start walking—even when you don’t talk to them about diet or smoking—will naturally begin to reduce their volume of cigarettes if they’re smokers and will generally eat less saturated fats and consume more produce,” says Long. “They may also lose a little bit of weight.”
Just be mindful of how much activity you’re getting. Giurini explains that “you should include breaks throughout the day to prevent getting stress fractures or tendinitis in your legs or feet.”
After Six Months
Expect all the health benefits to really kick in during this six-month mark. When you start walking almost every single day, your blood pressure can drop, your cholesterol lowers, and your blood sugar becomes more regulated, since exercising increases your sensitivity to insulin, according to Long. “Plus, in many cases, we’ve also seen people cut back on their medications because their health has improved,” Long adds. All you have to do is move your body more to live a healthier life—it’s that easy.