Let’s Hear it for 10,000 Steps

Last week I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal: 10,000 Steps a Day is a MYTH! (Caps and exclamation mark are both mine.)  And to quote any number of cowboys in any number of old Westerns, as far as I’m concerned, “Them’s fightin’ words!”

I didn’t bother reading the article. I didn’t need to. I know. I know The dirty little secret the reporters have recently uncovered is this: When Japanese health researchers started recommending 10,000 steps a day as a good health regimen, the pedometer they used to count steps didn’t go over 10,000, so 10,000 was it. The problem is, I’ve heard this story before with the underlying message being, you don’t really need to walk all 10,000. In fact, 4,500 a day is more than enough. And furthermore, since getting 10,000 steps a day is a phony goal, why bother?

Why indeed!!! Consider this for a moment. Have you ever seen a headline that says: Jogging May be Bad for your Knees or Participating in Marathons Could be Fatal or Forget Whole Marathons; Partial Ones are Fine or Riding Bikes Can Be Dangerous to Your Health. If you happen to see any headlines that hint in that direction, please send them my way, because, like unicorns, I don’t believe they actually exist.

After all, runners and bicycle riders are golden and walkers are … well … not only old and insignificant, they’re also pretty much athletically challenged. That was certainly true in my case. It took two semesters of beginning swimming at the University of Arizona for me to be able to get from one end of the pool to the other. In grade school, my participation in kickball, dodge ball, and volley ball mostly resulted in my glasses being broken. My depth perception was such that I never saw a ball coming in my direction until it literally hit me in the face. As for running laps in PE? How do you spell exertional asthma?

For years when it came time for the “exercise” question in my annual physicals, my standard reply was: I get my exercise by jumping to conclusions. But five years ago, at age 69, that same doctor finally got my attention—primarily due to my husband’s health as opposed to my own. As a result, we both started walking. It was, as Helen Reddy would say, a long hard climb to get from approximately 1,500 steps a day to 10,000. I would have to rest every 500 to 750 steps, and sit long enough to catch my breath. I would wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, my God! I’ve got to walk 10,000 steps today!” And more than once, I was walking laps inside the house at 11 PM, hoping to make the magic number before turning into a step pumpkin at twelve midnight. By the way, when I started walking I weighed 265 pounds and wore size 26 pants. While I’m writing this today, I weigh 204.6 (I was down to 199, but who’s counting? Covid lockdown has cost me five pounds) In addition, I’m wearing size 14 pants. SIZE FOURTEEN!!!

This morning I got up and marched through my ten, in 500-step convoluted laps out on the pool deck before the clock hit ten. I did my walking in my robe in total privacy. No one except the occasional helicopter passing overhead can see me there. (Based on the flyover times, my guess is the passenger is some Microsoft bigwig who uses a chopper to get back and forth from Medina to the Microsoft campus east of here. And if he’s interested in a seventy-something doing laps around her pool in her robe, so be it!)

Having read the Wall Street Journal headline rather than the article itself, I’m nonetheless reasonably sure that it says the same thing an earlier article somewhere else said—that you can gain the same health advantages by walking far fewer steps. Do you know what? I DON’T CARE!! That 10,000 step goal is MY goal and that’s not a myth. In the beginning hitting 10,000 was aspirational. Now it’s my daily fare. The pedometer app on my iPhone gives me a bright green bar on the screen every time I make my goal and a red bar or an orange bar depending on how badly I’ve missed it. Red is anything under 5000. Orange is from 5,000 to 10,000. I happen to know that my phone can count a lot higher than 10,000. At this very minute, having chatted by phone and doing socially distanced walking with my daughter during her lunch, I’m at 14,226.

It takes close to two hours to do my steps. I count that as two hours a day that I’m investing in my health. No matter what the Wall Street Journal says, that’s not a myth, either.

Last night, my second Fitbit bit the dust, and I probably won’t replace it. I’ve consistently found that it’s an easier grader than my iPhone is, hitting the “you’re done” button 500 to 700 steps before the iPhone clocks in. I’ve always preferred hard graders. Lately I’ve mostly used the Fitbit to tell the time when I wake up in the middle of the night. But it turns out, with the nightlight in the bathroom, I don’t really need that either.

Right now the pedometer tells me that since I’ve been keeping track with the Pedometer++ App, I’ve walked 8,000,102 steps since I started keeping track on the iPhone. My goal earlier in the week was to hit that number by Friday when the blog posts. I actually made the grade late on Wednesday afternoon. The pedometer tells me that 8,000,000 steps are enough to make the trip from New York City to San Francisco. Naturally I hit the easy button to make that trip. I didn’t cross mountain passes in raging blizzards or cross deserts in searing heat. No, I did my steps in the back yard or around the pool deck or even inside the house if the weather didn’t suit me. Why did I do them? Because I could, and because I simply love seeing all those green bars lined up next to one another.

And if you’re interested in which one of Aesop’s Fables happens to be my favorite, the answer to that would be: The Tortoise and the Hare. Slow but steady gets you there. I may have taken the better part of five years to make the grade, but I’ve now walked as far as the Transcontinental Railroad. Good for me!

And again, if you happen to see one of the above mentioned headlines about marathons being bad for you, please be sure to send it my way.

P.S. The Big Guy, our nine year-old koi in our back yard pond, poked his nose out from under his rock shelf yesterday, having survived our marauding blue heron for another year. I’ve mourned him every year when he’s been invisible , but just like Arnold, he’ll be back.

26 thoughts on “Let’s Hear it for 10,000 Steps

  1. Good morning, I love the mental image of you walking toward better health. Today it is a reminder that I need to get up and move more often. Big Guy seems to play hide and peek with you. He keeps you guessing .

  2. I’m with you. We don’t need any encouragement to not take better care of ourselves. My fitbit died a year ago, and I never got around to replacing it until recently. It really helps to keep track of what I’m doing as well as what I’m not doing. It helps motivate me to do better, and the idea that we need to ‘use it or lose it’ rings true for me in my experience. Whatever we can do to keep fit and healthy is worthy of our efforts, regardless of what anyone says.

  3. I’m so glad to hear that the Big Guy is still around. He’s one smart fish.
    I think walking really works for you. Keep on.

  4. Thanks for the blog. My mantra back in the day, was whatever works. I parked a distance from the gate/door to my office bldg. parked farther in the grocery store parking lot. To watch the diet, I didn’t buy no-nos. Easy as I live alone. So proud of you finding a way to reach your daily goal. Hopefully, Bill is doing well. Have a great summer.

  5. I think the point of the article is that there is nothing magical about 10000 steps. If it works for you as a goal then great but it has no deeper meaning than that. I count off in miles and not steps but that is because I am a runner (whose knees have gotten better since he took up running). Each individual should have their own goal and do what works for them.

  6. Judy, I’ve been following your steps saga from the beginning. I’ve been so impressed with your progress and would like to do the same. Because of this post, I went to the Apple App store and found the program. I also have an Apple Watch that monitors my activity, and it seems like the app you mentioned works with it. However, I can’t seem to get it to even work on my iPhone. It keeps saying I have to go into settings and give the app permission. I think I’ve given it permission to do everything except photograph me while I sleep. I think in my old age, I’m becoming denser. Any suggestions?

  7. J.A.Jance you have been my inspiration! I went out and bought a step tracker and challenged myself to do my 10,000 steps every day. It’s a struggle and I suspect I’m much younger so don’t give up! Good for you for rocking the norm, ignoring the nay-sayers, sticking to your guns! If I could aspire to become even half as fantastic as you are in my entire lifetime, I would consider myself a phenomenal success. Warmest regards, Suzy Wimer

  8. I love that you have commited and set Goals for yourself! I too saw the article that the, 10,000 steps were a myth. My thoughts are if you do something for yourself and set a goal then you are on your way.
    Thanks for being an inspiration to us all!!

  9. I’m currently unable to do my 10,000 because of a damaged foot so have been settling for somewhere around 5,500. I miss being able to do my 10 without pain and hope this clears up soon. You were my inspiration to get started and I just keep reminding myself that the foot will get better and I will be back up to my 10,000 soon.

      • 9017 today. On my way back up but am also going to be looking at a new pair of shoes when I feel like it’s safe to go shopping

  10. I have a FitBit and my phone also tracks my steps. They never come close to agreeing but I don’t care. I’m not part of a scientific study. I just use it as a guide. Lets me know if I’m doing better than my goal, worse than my goal. Now I can just ask myself Am I doing as well as JAJance?

  11. I am also part of the group inspired by your success and have been chasing 10,000 steps daily for 3.5 years now. Recently I was having a lot of foot and leg pain. Sometimes it was severe enough to wake me at night. One day I noticed that the tread on my favorite walking shoes were almost completely worn smooth. I bought new shoes the next day and all of the pain is gone. I was also having back pain which is also now gone. My recommendation is never underestimate the importance of proper footwear.

  12. zeroLike Garth Brooks said, his mother was the dreamer and always said you can always achieve what you dream of, but it was hi daddy who reminded him that whatever the dream you have to work your butt off to get it. Well Size 14 pants and 8 million steps is certain working your “buut” off, my friend!

    Yeah, Big Guy made it another year. Was wondering about him the other day. Blue Heron-Zero — Big Guy – Still Kicking!

  13. I love to walk. My current goal is a minimum of 12,000 steps each day and I use a FitBit and iphone for keeping track. As I write this, it is 113 degrees here in Phoenix AZ and I need to get up pretty early to get my steps outside. I racked up a lot of steps listening to “Credible Threat” recently and loved it!

  14. Beautiful article! I loved it! And congratulations on your weight loss, health restored, and determination!

    10,000 is indeed a worthy goal.

  15. Keep up the walking! I walk 5 miles every day and have excellent health. My family history includes diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease so I have been a gym rat for years. It has paid off! During the pandemic I have done Zumba in my bedroom every day to get my 5 miles. Maintaining good health is worth it! Keep up the good work!
    Love your books and loved seeing you in Mesa, AZ. Thanks!

  16. After all these years, I finally decided to join you. Health restrictions slow down my goals some. But on the days that I break thru, watch out! I feel like Wonder Woman!

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