Why a 10,000 Steps a Day Challenge is Bullshit and What to Do Instead
If you are reading this you are probably aware of the type of exercise protocols I provide. If not, they are FIRE (Focused Intense Resistance Exercise) and ICE (Intense Cardio Exercise). If you’re not familiar with these, be sure to check out the webpages.
Another type of exercise I promote is LIA.
What is LIA?
LIA stands for Low Intensity Activity, or Less Intense Activity, and it’s an integral part of my training programs at Eternally Fit. LIA can include walking, cycling, swimming, gardening, or any other activity that keeps you moving without the intense focus of cardio or resistance training. The most common form of LIA is walking.
The Purpose and Benefits of LIA
Most people think the sole purpose of LIA is to burn calories in order to lose weight. This explains why a lot of people sign up to 10,000 step challenges, and aim to get in as much movement as possible. While LIA does burn calories, its main purpose is to reduce stress and to aid recovery from more intense forms of activity. LIA is important because it helps you:
- switch off and reduce stress;
- recover from the more intense forms of exercise by keeping the body mobile, and promoting blood flow;
- learn how to put yourself first, and
- build a healthy lifestyle habit that will snowball to other great habits that help you lose weight and keep it off.
For example, if you go for a walk first thing in the morning, you’re likely to come home, have a healthy breakfast and take a healthy lunch to work with you. You’ll be reducing stress so you’ll be more productive and happier during your day. You’ll also feel more confident because you know that you’re doing something positive for your health.
If Walking is LIA, What About the 10,000 Steps Challenge?
Walking is one of the most common forms of LIA, so it would be easy to assume that joining the 10,000 steps a day bandwagon — like many weight-loss programs recommend — is the best way to make sure that you build LIA into your week. Will this help with your weight-loss goal? Maybe not. Here’s why.
It Can Increase Stress Instead of Reducing It
Focusing on ticking off 10,000 steps a day can easily become something on your ‘to-do’ list. If you’re a busy parent or run a business, this extra thing can quickly become a chore and cause excess stress. In addition, believing that you need a minimum of 10,000 steps for your movement to count contributes to the belief that you need to be perfect and tick these steps off every day, even though there will be days where it will be impossible to get 10,000 steps. Perfectionism also creates stress, which prevents weight loss. Stress can also increase the likelihood of emotional eating or binge eating, which of course will sabotage your weight loss journey.
It Can Lead to Inconsistency
A lot of people feel that they need to go from 0 steps to 10,000 steps in one day, in order to lose weight. Doing too much too soon increases the likelihood of injury and burnout. If you’re injured, you’ll need to take time out from your walking which means you’ll be inconsistent with it. If you find the task of achieving 10,000 steps too hard (because you haven’t built up to it), you’ll eventually give up. The best weight loss results come with consistency, not with periods of immense effort, dotted with periods of no activity.
It Can Promote Dieting Behaviours
When it comes to exercise, less is more. There is no need to spend hours of your day, every day exercising. The truth is many people are time-poor and may find it difficult to spend an hour exercising each day. Even if you could spend that much time being active, you can’t get 10,000 steps in an hour. People with a strong diet mindset are likely to engage in all or nothing thinking and believe that 10,000 steps is the be all and end all of weight-loss, and do whatever they can to make up for the steps they’ve missed in their day. Diets don’t work. In fact, following food rules and restricting food only adds to weight problems!
What Happens When You Focus on Getting 10,000 Steps a Day?
Even if you are able to get 10,000 steps a day because you’re in a job where you’re on your feet all day, and move a lot, this still won’t give you the benefits that a structured, planned walk will give you. Let’s look at an example:
Danielle is a nurse who has always struggled with her weight. She works in a busy hospital and is always on her feet. It’s not unusual for her to clock over 10,000 steps a day every time she has a shift. However Danielle’s hospital is often short-staffed, making her already stressful job more stressful. The demands of her job make it hard for her to take a break, and it’s not uncommon for her to skip lunch and work through. By the time she finishes her shift, Danielle feels very stressed, is physically and emotionally exhausted, and is starving. On her way home, she often drives through a fast-food joint to grab a snack that will tide her over until she gets home. When she gets home, she usually flops on the lounge with a glass of wine so she can unwind for the day. She feels like she deserves to rest and relax as she has reached her step goal for the day.
Getting 10,000 steps is not helping Danielle with her weight loss. Her walking doesn’t relieve stress, nor help her to switch off from the demands of her job. She’s also not learning to put her needs first, as she often skips lunch to keep working, which makes her so hungry she gets fast food on the way home. At the end of the day Danielle has a false sense of achievement because she has reached the goal of 10,000 steps. This helps her to justify drinking and sitting on the lounge to unwind from the day.
While she may be getting 10,000 steps, Danielle is not reaping the benefits associated with LIA, so she will continue to struggle to lose weight. To make matters worse, focusing on 10,000 steps means she’s not seeing her blind spot - her stress, which is contributing to her weight gain. Danielle is so stressed she skips lunch, eats fast food, and unwinds with a glass of wine. 10,000 steps a day won’t help her lose weight. However, committing to regular, structured walks throughout her week, away from her work will help reduce stress, which will have a snowball effect on other aspects of her life.
Schedule Your LIA and Forget about 10,000 Steps
It’s important to understand that the idea of getting 10,000 steps a day is very much based in diet culture. Just like cookie-cutter diet plans, the goal of 10,000 steps doesn’t take into account individual circumstances, fitness levels or mobility. Nor does it factor in what a person’s weight loss goals are, or the habits that someone needs to develop in order to lose weight for good. In essence, it’s moving for the sake of moving, rather than exercising with purpose.
When it comes to getting your LIA, the best option is to forget about the 10,000 steps a day model and schedule your LIA activity at regular times during your week, just as you would your FIRE and ICE training. I encourage my clients to walk regularly, usually on the days they don’t have FIRE or ICE training, as this provides them with the active recovery from their more intense sessions, and ensures that they move their body on most days. Scheduling your LIA ensures that you learn to put your needs first, ensures you make time for it, and that it becomes a habit. Simply setting a goal to ‘walk on most days’ won’t cut it as there will always be something that crops up to prevent you from getting it done. However, if it’s in your weekly schedule, you’ll always get it done.
Benefits of Scheduled and Structured LIA
Remember, the purpose of LIA isn’t primarily to burn calories. It’s to help you relax, reduce stress and aid recovery from your more intense exercise sessions. That’s why a 2 Km walk at the end of the day is more beneficial than getting 10,000 steps during a stress-filled work day.
Structuring and scheduling your walks throughout the week will help you to:
- relax, switch off and reduce stress (which will lead to better weight loss results);
- improve your mental health;
- learn to value yourself and your goals;
- prioritise yourself;
- build a habit that will stay with you for life;
- recover from your more intense training sessions, so you’ll be able to train better at your next session;
- improve your mobility, which will help during your training sessions; and
- be consistent with exercise, which means better results!
Structured LIA also provides you with an opportunity to build up your walking over time and thereby reduce the risk of injury and burnout. For example, you might start with a 2 Km walk and then progress to 3 Km, 4 Km and then 5 Km. Or your might start by walking 2 days a week, and then increasing this to 3 and then 4 days a week. You can also progress your LIA by working to increase your pace. Progressing gradually means you are more likely to be consistent with your walking, and consistency is the key to any weight loss journey.
Need Help Cutting Through the Bullshit?
When it comes to weight loss advice, there is a lot of bullshit out there. Most of it is based on diet culture, which encourages people to restrict food and exercise more. However none of this is scientifically proven to work over the long term. In fact it’s scientifically proven not to work!
I know it can be hard to discern fact from fiction, especially when the diet industry is so good as selling false promises and programs that will never work. I also know that if there is a glimmer of hope that something might work, then someone who desperately wants to lose weight will take it.
If you are sick of diets and want more than a just a good body, I can help you sort fact from fiction and cut through the bullshit, so you can finally get on the path to permanent weight loss.
My transformation program will give you specific, personalised action steps and provide you with the right amount of structure and accountability, to help you build habits — including the important habit of LIA — that will help you get results.
You will get the knowledge, systems, tools and skills to help you deal with any situation, so you can keep moving forward and make progress, even on your worst days.