Have you heard that we should all aim to take at least 10,000 steps per day for health and fitness? Perhaps you struggle to turn this recommendation into action. You’re not alone. According to Stanford University behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, the reasons we don’t make it to those 10,000 steps are simple. To change a behavior, like increasing our steps, we need three ingredients: motivation, ability and a trigger. If any one of these is missing, we’re not likely to make the change.
The first ingredient, motivation, is different for everyone. Some of us exercise because we enjoy it. Others stay active to avoid the consequences of not exercising, such as stiff joints or back pain. Or we may move more because we live or work in an environment where everyone is moving and it would be weird not to.
The next ingredient is ability, and the secret to ability is simplicity. If taking 10,000 steps per day means you have to pay for a gym membership and drive to the gym, it gets complicated fast. On the other hand, if adding more steps is the difference between walking to the curb to check the mail instead of grabbing it as you drive by, you can easily add steps to this daily activity.
The final ingredient is the trigger. Assuming we have sufficient motivation and ability, all we need is a trigger to get us to act at the right moment. For example, a trigger might be your Fitbit buzzing at you to take more steps when you’ve been sitting for a while, or an app that prompts you to complete a task or activity at a certain time (like going for a walk as soon as you get home from work). A simple alarm can work the same way.
Now that you know the ingredients, follow the recipes below to get closer to those 10,000 steps:
1. Commit to five (or 15) minutes per day. Do you have time before, during or after your work day to add a brisk walk or quick run? Fifteen minutes of brisk walking or five to 10 minutes of running per day can improve health and increase life expectancy. Set an alarm or some kind of reminder on your phone at a time that’s convenient. You might also try an app that does this for you.
2. Find ways to add steps without changing your routine (too much). Parking farther away from the store or your office is an easy way to add a few steps to your day. Or you might try getting off of your bus or train one stop early if you take public transit. Or you can take the scenic route through the grocery store (just don’t buy anything extra that’s not on your list!).
3. Use your social network. Know anyone else who’s trying to get more active? There are lots of apps that allow you to track activity with the people in your network. Knowing what your friends are up to can be a powerful motivator and a trigger. Just imagine getting a notification that your BFF is winning this week’s step challenge while you’re plopped in front of Netflix — that’s a powerful trigger!
4. Walk the talk. Try pairing walking or running with something you enjoy. This strategy, known as temptation bundling, is a great way to sneak in more steps. You can walk while you catch up with a friend, or listen to audiobooks or podcasts while you jog. (Don’t forget that you can borrow free audiobooks from your local library!)
5. Get active with people you enjoy. For many of us, connecting with loved ones is a priority, but sometimes it feels as though we have to choose between quality time and physical activity. Maybe not. Try planning active get-togethers like putt putt or laser tag or a walk in the park. Or turn on some music and dance with your kids. In the process, you may even forget to count your steps.