-by Mary Keating  for Flourish  


Overall, walking is one of the easiest, most enjoyable and most profitable forms of exercise. And now it looks like it might be one of the best ways to get healthy.


For decades, exercise enthusiasts said we needed to block out 30 to 60 minutes each day for getting our sweat on. While aerobic exercise and strength training are still essential, studies now indicate that we can lead a longer, healthier life if we simply increase our overall physical activity each day.


The Surgeon General reports that a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking can produce short- and long-term health benefits. On average, it takes about 2,000 steps to walk one mile — 10,000 steps is roughly equivalent to five miles. Recent guidelines suggest that walking 10,000 steps at a moderate intensity throughout the day is enough for most people to reach the minimum 30-minute target.


Most of us recognize the importance of regular exercise, but some of us, while readily acknowledging the value, find it difficult to squeeze daily exercise into our busy schedules. But with the new guidelines and 10,000 steps-per-day challenge, you don’t need a gym membership or fancy exercise equipment. All that is required is a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothing and a desire to improve your health and drop a few pounds.


Many tools on the market can track steps — apps for phones, fancy watches designed to track everything from steps to calories burned and, of course, the basic standard pedometers. While I presently use my phone and a free map-my-run app to track activity, I am thinking of investing in a Fitbit or some other wristwatch device. A number of walking cohorts are currently using the Fitbit and enjoy the challenges and rewards of increased motivation and, hence, a higher level of daily activity. Over the holidays, my girls used basic pedometers and realized that the challenge required focus and a constant level of activity throughout the day in order to reach 10,000 steps. I, on the other hand, used my free app to track distances on longer walks, yet missed out on counting steps taken to get laundry done, feed the family and get the house picked up.


For the average person, it may take six months to establish a new behavior, so when deciding whether to get the inexpensive basic pedometer or the higher priced fancy gadget, gauge your level of commitment and dedication to the pedometer. If the goal is 10,000 steps per day and you are committed to doing so for a minimum of six months, a gadget superior to the simple pedometer may be a wise investment.


Be forewarned: Experts suggest it is difficult to squeeze in 10,000 steps without making time for a walk. But there many ways to increase your daily steps. Websites suggest walking the dog, teaming up with a friend and walking during your lunch hour, taking the stairs rather than the elevator or parking the car farther from the store or the office.


According to thewalkingsite.com, it is not required to immediately tackle all 10,000 steps when beginning the step challenge. If you are presently inactive, it is important to work up slowly to avoid injury.


For those who do not enjoy walking and regularly engage in other exercise activities, shapeup.org has charts so you can translate your 10,000 steps goal into an equivalent time goal for your other exercise activities.  As we begin this New Year, it just might be time for me to take a walk and invest in a pedometer that counts all the steps I take during the day. I hope 2014 is a happy and healthy year for you too.