'I walked 10,000 steps a day for a month - this is what I learned'

Thermals and fleece outerwear from Columbia.   Reporter Dianne Bourne tests them out
-Credit: (Image: MEN)

The goal of walking 10,000 steps a day has long been touted as an ideal target for those seeking to boost their fitness and health.

Numerous health studies over the years have suggested that incorporating more walking into your daily routine can help reduce the risk of various serious diseases.

Research also indicates that increasing your daily step count can enhance mental clarity, with some studies even suggesting it can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Best of all, walking is a completely FREE way to improve your health and fitness.

However, the 10,000-step benchmark seems somewhat arbitrary, with some experts suggesting that 4,000 steps could be sufficient for health benefits. A recent study by JAMA Neurology even claimed that for every additional 2,000 steps taken each day, the risks of premature death can be reduced.

READ MORE: 'I devoted my life to fitness for a decade - and worrying changes happened to my body'

Undoubtedly, any efforts to increase physical activity and decrease food intake are beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week for good health, stating that even a brisk 10-minute daily walk can yield "lots of health benefits".

Yet, I was eager to see if achieving the 10,000 step target on a daily basis would assist in my personal goals of shedding some weight and regaining my fitness after a recent slump, reports the Manchester Evening News.

Walking for health - can 10,000 steps a day offer health boosts?  [Stock picture]
Walking for health - can 10,000 steps a day offer health boosts? -Credit:MEN - Stock Image

During the Covid lockdown, I seized every opportunity to improve my fitness. I utilised the daily one-hour allowance for outdoor activities (remember that?) to embark on long walks, which gradually evolved into runs. I was astounded by how quickly I became fit.

However, when lockdown restrictions were lifted, I found myself slipping back into unhealthy habits of minimal exercise and indulging in cakes and treats. Now at 47, I'm carrying more weight than I'd like for my height of 5' 6".

Equipped with my Fitbit fitness tracker, I set a goal to walk at least 10,000 steps every day throughout June to assess its impact on my health and well-being. I was curious to see if achieving this daily target would aid in weight loss.

To conduct this experiment, I decided not to alter my diet during the first two weeks of the month. In contrast, I incorporated healthy eating into my routine during the latter half of the month to observe its effect on my weight and the health statistics displayed on my Fitbit.

For me, this involved monitoring my resting heart rate, which typically ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute for adults. Health professionals assert that a lower resting heart rate generally indicates more efficient heart function and superior cardiovascular fitness.

I had high hopes that increasing my exercise would have a positive impact on my resting heart rate, which was at 75 bpm at the start of the month. Here's how my journey unfolded over the month.

Week One - the beginning

As a working mother of two, I like to believe I'm already quite active, but my Fitbit fitness tracker paints a different picture. Upon reviewing my stats before embarking on this experiment, I was taken aback to discover that my average step count for the previous month - May - was only 5,000 per day. Given that I work from home and spend a lot of time at my desk, it seems I've fallen into the habit of sitting for extended periods.

To reach my goal of 10,000 steps a day, I quickly realised I'd need to double my activity levels. To assist me in achieving this, I begin by attempting to do more of the morning and evening school runs on foot rather than resorting to a last-minute car scramble.

I'm delighted to see this does indeed help increase my step count, but I still find myself falling short of the 10,000 target by the evening. So, I develop a routine of taking an early evening walk to accumulate a final few thousand steps before preparing the kids for bed.

After my first full week of hitting 10,000 steps, I'm already feeling quite optimistic about the whole endeavour, and taking some time to walk alone does help me feel much calmer at the end of the day. I observed that my resting heart rate had been gradually decreasing throughout the week, starting at 75 bpm and dropping to 72 bpm by the end of the week.

However, when I stepped on the scales at the end of the week, expecting to shed a pound or two, I was disappointed to find that my weight hadn't changed at all. Harrumph.

Weight lost: none

Average heart rate: 72bpm

Week Two - the plateau

The second week started off promisingly. I knew I would be doing a lot of walking as I had several gigs lined up that required me to walk to and from venues, including Co-op Live and Emirates Old Trafford from the city centre. This resulted in a couple of days where I managed an impressive 15,000 steps.

However, the downside of attending events is the temptation to indulge in less healthy food and drink options than I would if I were at home. Perhaps I thought the extra steps would allow me to sneak in some additional calories without the scales noticing.

Walking for health - what would be the impact of walking 10,000 steps a day for a month?  Reporter Dianne Bourne gave it a try
Dianne headed out for lots of walks -Credit:MEN

Unfortunately, this didn't turn out well. When I weighed myself at the end of the week, I was shocked to find that I had gained a pound. My heart rate had also begun to rise again, particularly on the day when I overindulged a bit too much on wine.

It felt like all the progress made during the first week had been wasted, and I was quite frustrated with myself for not capitalising more on the health benefits of the first week. So, by the third week, I decided to focus on my diet and committed to eating healthily while maintaining my goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Weight lost: gained 1lb

Average heart rate: 75bpm

Week Three - lightbulb moment

My decision to eat healthily coincided with another work project that required me to test out a new range of recipe boxes from Slimming World. Having previously followed the Slimming World plan and achieved significant weight loss, I was confident this could help me shed some pounds this week. You can read about my experience here.

Preparing these healthy, nutrient-rich meals from scratch kept me focused and away from unhealthy temptions. The recipe boxes were packed with fresh vegetables and lean meats, devoid of ultra-processed foods.

My meals included dishes like salmon with roasted vegetables, Korean beef with noodles, and jerk pork with rice. Pairing a healthy diet with my daily walks, I could feel myself becoming healthier each day.

This improvement was reflected in my resting heart rate readings on the Fitbit. I was astounded to see the dramatic impact a completely healthy diet, coupled with walking, had on my heart rate, which dropped to 71bpm by the end of the week.

The scales also showed a significant result - I lost a total of six pounds this week.

Weight lost: - 6lbs

Average heart rate: 71bpm

Week Four - steady progress

Feeling encouraged by the progress made in week three, I began to consciously incorporate more walking into my daily routine. Instead of meeting friends for a sit-down coffee, we opted for long walks with takeaway coffees in hand.

Delivering shopping to a relative, which would typically be done by car, was now accomplished on foot. I was aware that the significant weight loss from the first week of dieting wouldn't be replicated this week, but I was still delighted to lose another two pounds, bringing my total weight loss for the month to 7lb.

Now that I've regained my healthy momentum, I aim to maintain this progress, losing an average of around 2lb per week.

Weight lost: - 2lbs

Average heart rate: 66bpm

What it did for my health

The most rewarding aspect of this project was observing the positive impact a healthier lifestyle had on my heart rate. At the beginning of the month, my Fitbit indicated a resting heart rate of 75bpm. The initiation of the 10,000 steps routine immediately reduced my heart rate to 70 bpm.

However, it plateaued for a while, and as I indulged in less healthy foods, I was disheartened to see it gradually increase, peaking at 79bmp mid-month. It was at this point that I decided to focus on my diet - and, as the graph above shows, combining a healthy diet with 10,000 steps a day had a significant impact in reducing my resting heart rate.

Walking for health - can 10,000 steps a day offer health boosts?  Reporter Dianne Bourne tried it for a month - this is the impact on her resting heart rate.
Dianne's Fitbit graph shows how her resting heart rate steadily fell -Credit:MEN

By the end of the month, my resting heart rate had dropped to 65bpm where it has remained stable for the past week or so. Another revelation was discovering how increasing my activity levels affected my calorie burn. My Fitbit estimated that my average daily energy burn in May when I was averaging 5,000 steps a day, was 2,469 calories a day.

In June, with an average of 10,000 steps a day, this increased to 2,660 calories burned per day. So, I was burning approximately 200 extra calories a day due to the increase in exercise.

If weight loss is your goal, you need to burn more calories per day than you consume, so increasing the calories burned through walking can only be beneficial for me, considering the several stones I need to lose to reach a healthy weight.

What I learned

The most important lesson I learned over the course of the month is the old saying that you simply can't outrun (or outwalk) a bad diet. Despite significantly increasing my exercise during the first two weeks, it had no effect on my weight loss - because I was clearly consuming far too many calories, even with the extra calories burned from the 10,000 steps.

The turning point came when I combined my walking routine with a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. That's when the weight really started to drop off.

Walking was not just about losing weight, it also kept me motivated to maintain a healthier lifestyle overall. By the end of the month, I felt strong enough to increase my pace and even managed to jog occasionally without getting too winded - a significant improvement for me.

In fact, I feel ready to reintroduce some gentle running into my routine. I can understand why fitness trackers are so popular. They provide a sense of achievement when you reach your personal goals. I'm not sure if it was solely due to the walking, but I did experience a sense of calm from being more active.

Sticking to this routine for a month made me realise just how much walking is required to achieve such results, which is helpful on days when I might forget to wear my Fitbit.

The best part is that walking is a completely free form of exercise. Coupled with a healthy diet, it has significantly improved my heart health. I plan to continue on this journey to lose more weight and get in better shape.