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The Struggle is Real: 10,000 Steps or Bust?

10,000 steps
This is a banner four-greens week, the likes of which I never see: F was rest day (but traveling so lots of walking). S/S/M were run/hike/run, respectively, with some dog walking thrown in. T was swim + dog walk. W was off of exercise, but spent the day at a trade show. Th was swim + dog walk.

My name is Dimity, and I have a confession to make: I’m slightly obsessed with how many steps I take daily.

I tried for the better part of a year to pretend to be indifferent to the metric, clocked on my Garmin 735 XT, that I can access by pushing a button a few times. I’d only check it slyly, while l was on a walk or on the phone or maybe sitting on the toilet. (Because what else are you going to do?)

Then, in April, as Ben and I were driving to Albuquerque for a water polo tournament, we listened to a delightful essay by David Sedaris about his preoccupation with his FitBit.

Validation from a best-selling author? All the permission I needed to go public with it. For the record, he clocks over 35,000 steps—or 17.5 miles—regularly. (2,000 steps is roughly one mile.) Even when he was sick with the flu and on book tour, he made himself walk around the airport prior to boarding to get to 10,000 steps, the daily accepted amount for general health and wellness. (10,000 steps started with a Japanese pedometer in the mid-60’s, according to this article, which also disputes the precision of the number.)

I’m not as bad as Sedaris. But I will admit, watching my steps climb over the course of the day is oddly soothing and surprisingly fulfilling.

I have some loose rules, but the gist is this: The weekly overview screen stores seven days. If a blue bar (a day when I walk less than I have for the previous seven days) is the next one to be eliminated, it can be replaced that day with a blue bar. If a green bar (a day I've walked more than the previous seven days) exits, I pinky-swear to myself to do my best to make the current day green.

Although most weeks I exercise five to six times, I’ll run two times, max, for about 6 miles total (a mere 12,000 steps for the entire week). So I don’t have that gimme like I used to. At the gym, the Stepmill tallies steps, although the total always feels a little stingy. The bike nets zero, and the elliptical, as far as I can tell, does not. Swimming is great exercise, but strokes aren’t steps, and only steps create green bars.

10,000 steps
Walk the dogs: as in plural. This is Banjo, our newest hound. He would like to walk up trees.

So I work towards my green bars as I do any other goal: by inching towards it incrementally. In the summer, I’m happy to walk the dogs (4,500-7,000 steps depending on my route). When I need to grab my favorite capris in the laundry room, it’s not a hassle. It’s 100 more steps. My laptop cord is down there too? Rack up another 100. I have a standing desk that I use more often now, but standing doesn’t register squat.

I’m a little disappointed that my weekend double-feature of Costco + Target (which includes parking far away and then unloading everything) typically nets less than 3,000 steps, but maybe I’m just being greedy. In the evenings, I’m inclined to go for at least 1,000 steps—I mean walk—with the dogs, my husband or my kids, or any combo thereof, which is much more pleasant than doing dishes or checking Facebook. Last week, I walked about 2,200 round-trip steps to get a pedicure in a nearby shopping center, and when I arrived 20 minutes early for a haircut, I took a pedestrian tour of the neighborhood.

Just like a workout, I never regret taking a walk.

I typically get green bars for just four of the seven days of the week, which really doesn’t sit well with my perfectionist tendencies. The blue bars are a gentle way, though, to sand those rigid, sharp corners that jut into my expectations and perspective.

With the exception of one single night, when I paced back and forth, iPhone light on to avoid stepping in dog poop, in my backyard to get to green, I haven’t let the blue bars coerce me to take off my PJs and get dressed to round one more block or run up and down my stairs. That's a victory in my (sharp-cornered) book.

When Sedaris’ validation feels lacking as I press the Garmin's lower left-hand button for the 34th time today to see where my steps are, I remind myself that despite nearly daily exercise, I have mostly sedentary lifestyle—and we all know sitting is the new smoking.

I spend the majority of my day either over a keyboard or a steering wheel. I love my job, I love the out-of-district schools my kids attend, I love that my kids do theater and play volleyball, but the underlying, sit-sit-sit commitments that go with them? Not as much.

10,000 steps
Will I get to green today? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, all will be ok.

Beyond the physical, there’s a mental component that feels even more valuable. Like most of us, I am immersed in plenty of tech that feels both dictatorial and out of my control. I adore how basic this one slice of technical data is. Two screens that I choose to scroll to; two screens that involve no push notifications or associated pace, no breaking news or bullying tweets, no uninvited intrusion into already swirling chaos that is this modern life that we live.

10,000 stepsPerhaps more importantly, my pal Pema Chodron reminds me again and again that the only thing certain is uncertainty. I believe her, and am trying my hardest (do Buddhists allow you to try hard?) to live with that truth. That said, my step fascination allows me to selectively ignore her on one benign subject—and reaffirm my faith in the most basic motion.

Today, I am certain that my legs and body are healthy enough to move forward. Today, I am certain that I care enough about my mental and spiritual wellbeing to move forward. Today, I am certain that even if my blue bar doesn’t turn green, tomorrow will be another day to try again.

Are you with me on the step obsession?
(Please say yes!)

28 responses to “The Struggle is Real: 10,000 Steps or Bust?

  1. My husband and I both walk 10,000 steps each day. We have been doing this now for well over a year. He uses the Fitbit and I an Apple watch. I would consider it more of a part of our day than and obsession. It is just something that has to be done each day. This past winter we found ourselves at the mall a few times to get the steps. It has just become part of our daily routine to have 10,000 each day. I am a runner and don’t mind run days because I know that I will get my steps.

  2. I am a person with perfectionistic tendencies. So when I found myself circling the coffee table for the fiftieth+ time in my attempt to reach 10,000 steps before midnight, I realized that fitbit wasn’t a good fit for me. This insignificant piece of plastic was making me do silly things; even worse, I allowed it to make me feel badly about myself when I “failed” to hit the step goal. Thus after reaching my goal steps that night, I took off the device. Now I choose to be healthy by NOT tracking my steps. I do use a Garmin when I run, but I don’t pay attention to my pace, and I love seeing the distances of the routes that I travel. Celebrating my running progress post-run energizes me, whereas scrutinizing my step count generally discouraged me. Do what’s right and kind for you! 🙂

  3. I track my running mileage, and which shoes I wore. I record any other exercise I do, but I don’t count steps and don’t own a fit bit. It’s too obsessive for me, but if it gets people out there exercising, it’s all good.

  4. I’m just a little bit Fitbit obsessed, and have developed some strategies to get the most of my steps. Obviously running or walking are the best, easiest ways to get steps (although with a Fitbit it’s important to keep your arms moving, so try not to push a shopping cart or stroller, or just push with the non-
    fitbit arm). The elliptical records on a par with walking, as long as you use the swing arms or go handsfree and drive your arms. The stationary bike will record steps if you swing your arms while pedaling. On an outdoor bike I attach the fitbit to my shoe. I will not hesitate to march in place at home if needed to bump up my steps. Running takes about 4.5 miles for 10,000 steps. An hour of elliptical is 5000+ to 6000 steps, depending on how hard I’m working. Walking is also about 6000 steps per hour. I try to get to 10,000 by 9 a.m. on a running day, by noon on a cross-training day (if possible). I am in a weekday challenge group so my efforts have stepped up (haha) in the last few months!

  5. I love this article! I’m on the other end of the spectrum where I’m just recently making strides of being healthier… and the step count is so very important to understand whether I truly ran around all day or didn’t get as much movement. On days when I run or walk, it’s so exciting to see how high that count can go! I’m in the TLAM Stride Into Summer program, and it has gotten my step counts beyond what I could have hoped some days not to mention addictive to see your weight come down as the step count goes up!!! Love this article and makes me want to run with our lab Gus so thanks!

  6. When I broke a bone in my foot and couldn’t run I started riding my bike a lot. I strapped my Fitbit to my ankle! I figured I was moving my body and my legs and I wanted credit!

  7. I have worn a Fitbit One in my pocket (or bra!) for at least 7 years. One One even ended its life in the blue goo of a Porta Potty after a half (but not before I held my phone next to the chamber where it lay and hit “sync” one last time – couldn’t risk missing out on 26k steps). I also focus on weekly output vs a daily thing. Helps me be mindful. And I have walked back and forth at 11:55pm to round to the nearest 100 more times than I care to admit. Thank you for sharing and letting us all know we are not alone!

  8. haha good to know I’m not alone.
    I’ve been known to run in place in the bathroom at work to get a few extra steps in!

  9. I thought I was the only one! I love the bar chart in your photo and am trying to see if my watch shows that as well! I also walk a lot around airports to get in my extra steps. i walked to/from my gates in Atlanta last week both inbound and outbound to get steps rather than take the train.

  10. Love my garmin, but I also wear a pocket fitbit because it is way more accurate at counting steps (I have done NUMEROUS single participant studies on this)! Even on a rough day it motivates me to walk at least one lap around the block (about a half mile). That being said, I focus on my weekly average, not daily numbers because life with littles has enough pressure, add in a full time job, and I recognized that I needed to cut myself some slack.

    My goal this year is to average 11,000 steps – I sit for a living so it is a goal that I must be very intentional to reach. I have tracked steps for over 7 years and it still motivates me to move.

  11. OMG, I love all of the comments of my fellow obsessed with steps people! 🙂 If its 11pm at night and I still need 1000 steps, I’ll make circles around my living room as I watch Stephen Colbert or I’ll go take a quick lap around the street. I don’t know why it’s important to me, but I feel like I must meet this goal. My Garmin ups the steps every day and I’m currently at 12,000-something. If I don’t get the goal, no big deal, especially as the step goal inches up, but I do try and take multiple walks/day to get me as close to my goal as possible.

  12. “Sitting is the new smoking” so true!! Random fact for my Fitbit-on days I play Keyboard in my worship band at church, and am standing and using the pedal for 4 hours, I log 10,000 steps…just with shifting my weight and tapping the pedal. Hmmmm…I guess FitBit really wants me to feel good about myself in all circumstances and efforts!

  13. I had a 4 year streak of over 10,000 steps a day and then last summer I needed to wear a boot for a foot injury and that ended my streak. I still try to get over 10,000 steps but every now and then it does not happen. During that 4 years I did all sorts of things to keep my streak – walking around the kitchen, walking in a circle while watching TV, going for a walk even when sick, and I got up early the morning of my root canal to make sure I got in my steps before hand. I wear a Fitbit and my current obsession is to see how often I can get 250 steps each hour during the day.

  14. I would not say I’m obsessed with the step addiction. However, I will admit to feeling like I’ve accomplished something when I do get over 10,000 steps (and I set my steps per day on my watch face) and feeling somewhat frustrated when I’ve just finished a 60 mile cycle ride and it shows I’ve walked 326 steps!

  15. Totally!! And not just my 10,000 steps but also my distance and flights of stairs. My Fitbit is around my ankle for spin and outdoor cycling. I’m not going to work that hard and not get to count those steps!

  16. I appreciate this post today, I recently have been promoted which will mean a lot of sitting at a desk, instead of moving around the office. I’m excited but really need to keep healthy, so am charging my Fitbit now after breaking up with it for about 6 months. Thank you!

  17. I’m glad I’m not the only one. And I “cheat”. I want to run more but for a variety of reasons I can’t. So I use my spin bike several days a week using my BELOVED Peloton app and put my watch on my shoe. I have it set for 10,000 daily steps and I’m on a roll of 450+ straight days of reaching my goal. I too, have walked around my kitchen table or up and down if driveway to get the steps in

  18. Totally obsessed & proud of it! I have even attached my Fitbit to my shoelaces when on the bike so I am sure to get the steps counted

  19. I do watch my steps but with my crazy German Shepherd and running even just 10 miles per week I can average 10,000 steps per day/70,000+ per week without really struggling> If I’m running 15-20 per week I get over 100k easily.

    But that said, I don’t always get to green. I was wondering if you guys manually set your step goal? My Garmin keeps upping the ante and raising the goal to 11,000, 12,000 or even more steps if I’ve been good. I find that irritating. Anyone else have that issue and find it irritating, or do you enjoy that your device is pushing you harder?

  20. Yes! I have walked laps around my house to get steps in if it’s raining outside and I can’t go for a walk or run. I didn’t pay as much attention before this month, when suddenly my Garmin alerted me that I had a 14 day step streak and gave me an additional trophy screen! Then and there I decided that I would make it to 31 days. Good news…I did! Now I’m obsessed with keeping it going. Full disclosure: my daily step goal is 8000. It’s what my Garmin assigned me, and I read that health benefits can be realized at 7500 steps. So I’m good with that for now.

  21. Yes, i walk laps around buildings during swim meets, or around the park during volleyball tournaments. basically all activities my kids are involved in. If i get distracted and see 8,000 before I get into bed I lap the living room or (weather permitting) lace up and walk the neighborhood. When my dad died I was wracking up 20,000 a day. It helped me cope. If I am injured and cant run, I can always walk. PS the elliptical at lifetime registers steps 😉

  22. No. After 3200 in the pool or a 27 mile mountain bike rids when my watch tells me to “MOVE”, I take it off. Sauntering around my house or walking up to get the mail doesn’t “count” in my log!

  23. Yes! I’m with Wendy- I’ve been known to take laps around my house to get that goal. There is something satisfying of checking it off. Makes me feel better about the whole not very active job thing.

  24. I do admit that I’ve been disappointed after walking around our equivalent of Costco registering barely any steps because I’ve been pushing a shopping cart, so now I try to remember to put my Garmin in my pocket. Those steps must count!

  25. I wear a Fitbit on my waist – even though I wear an Apple Watch every day and a Garmin when I’m running. Something about my basic FitBit is soothing to me. Working a stressful job and keeping up with things at home are areas of major uncertainty. I always feel like if I’ve accomplished nothing else specifically for me today, at least I’m getting those 10,000 steps.

  26. I am absolutely obsessed! I will walk laps around the kitchen while I’m on the phone (honestly, I also walk laps around the kitchen as I scroll Facebook on my phone), my 6 year old knows she has to hold my “non-swinging hand” so my steps will count as we walk across the parking lot (where I have chosen the absolute farthest parking spot), and I have been known to walk up and down the driveway or pace in my bedroom to get my last few steps at night. The struggle IS real!

  27. I’m not obsessed but I do think it’s important. I have noticed that on days where my workout is cycling or swimming my steps can be very low and I’ve adjusted to be more active on those days.

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