'I walked 10,000 steps a day for a month - here's how it affected my body'

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-Credit: (Image: MEN)

Almost everyone is familiar with the 10,000 steps a day health and fitness challenge. If the aim is to get people fitter and healthier it seems a relatively straightforward and accessible way to go about it.

Walking, as part of a daily routine can play a part in reducing the likelihood of developing a range of serious diseases, at least according to a number of health studies.

It can also improve mental acuity and some studies suggest it can even help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. And, best of all, walking is an entirely FREE way of doing something to improve your health and fitness.

The figure of 10,000 steps seems to be a fairly arbitrary one though, with some saying 4,000 can be enough to have health benefits. And, in a recent study by JAMA Neurology, it was claimed that for every extra 2,000 steps taken each day, the risks of premature death can be reduced. Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox.

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Clearly anything you can do to move more and eat less is a good thing in keeping to a healthy weight. The NHS advises 150 minutes of exercise per week to maintain good health, stating that even a brisk 10-minute daily walk can have "lots of health benefits".

But MEN reporter Dianne Bourne was keen to test out whether reaching the 10,000 step figure on a daily basis would help her achieve her own personal goals to lose some weight, and gain back my fitness after something of a slump in recent months.

She explains how she got on and the surprising lessons she learned.

"Back in Covid lockdown days I'd taken every opportunity to get myself fit, using those daily one hours when we were allowed out of the house (remember that?) to complete big walks, which gradually turned into big runs. I amazed myself with how fit I became in a relatively short space of time.

"When lockdown restrictions eased though, I found it a bit too easy to fall back into bad habits of doing not very much exercise at all, while stuffing my face with cakes and treats. I'm 47 now, and carrying more weight than I would like at a height of 5' 6".

"Armed with my fitbit fitness tracker on my wrist, I decided to walk at least 10,000 steps across the whole of June to see exactly what impact it would have on my health and well-being. I was also interested to see if meeting the target each day would help me lose any weight at all.

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Walking for health - can 10,000 steps a day offer health boosts? -Credit:MEN

"To try and test it out, I decided not to moderate my diet at all during the first two weeks of the month, while in the second half of the month I would add healthy eating into the equation to see what difference that would make to my weight, and also my health stats that showed on my Fitbit fitness tracker.

"For me, that meant keeping an eye on my resting heart rate. A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

"Health experts say that, in general, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness.

"I was hoping that increasing my exercise would improve my own resting heart rate. At the start of the month, my resting heart rate was at 75 bpm."

Here's how I got on across the month

Week One - starting out

As a working mum of two, I like to think I do plenty of running around as it is, but my Fitbit fitness tracker tells a different story.

When I looked at my stats ahead of doing this experiment, I was surprised to see my average step count across the month before - in May - was 5,000 a day. Working at a desk from home a lot of the time, I suppose I have got into the habit of sitting for long periods.

To get up to my target of 10,000 steps a day I realise I'm going to need to double my moments of activity pretty sharpish.

To help me in this aim, I start by trying to do more of the morning and evening school runs by foot rather than a last minute panic and scramble in the car. I'm pleased to see this does indeed help to boost my numbers, but when it gets to evening times I'm finding I'm still falling short of the 10,000 target.

So I get into the habit of going for an early evening stroll and racking up a final couple of thousands of steps before getting the kids ready for bed.

After my first full week of 10,000 steps I'm already feeling pretty positive about things, and taking the time out to walk by myself a little bit does help me to feel a lot calmer at the end of the day.

Reporter Dianne Bourne gave walking a try
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 -Credit:MEN

I've noticed that my resting heart rate has been falling across the week, starting at 75pm, and dropping down to 72bpm by the end of the week.

However, when I jump on the scales at the end of the week, thinking I might have lost a pound or two, I'm dismayed to see it's literally not changed at all. Harrumph.

Weight lost: none

Average heart rate: 72bpm

Week Two - the plateau

This week started well, I knew I had a lot of days when walking would be involved as I was attending a lot of gigs that would require walking to and from the venues - including to Co-op Live and Emirates Old Trafford from the city centre. It meant a couple of days this week where I clocked what I thought was a fairly impressive 15,000 steps.

But, alas, the downside of going out and about to events is also the temptation to perhaps eat and drink a tad more unhealthily than I would do if I was at home. I think maybe I thought the extra steps would somehow mean I could pile in some cheeky extra calories without the scales noticing.

Yes, this did not end well, did it? When I stepped on the scales at the end of the week, I was horrified to discover I'd put ON one pound.

My heart rate had also started to creep back up again - noticeably to a high on the day that I, ahem, overindulged a tad too much on the wine.

It felt like all the good work of week one had been for nothing and I was pretty annoyed with myself for not capitalising more on the health gains of week one.

So it became a pretty easy decision to make that in week three I was going to start addressing the diet side of things and eat healthily, alongside sticking to the 10,000 step a day goal

Weight lost: gained 1lb

Average heart rate: 75bpm

Week Three - Lightbulb moment

My decision to eat healthily rather happily coincided with another work project I needed to do on this particular week, to test out a new range of recipe boxes from Slimming World.

I've done the Slimming World plan and lost a lot of weight in the past, so I knew this could be a good way to lose some weight this week, and you can read all about how that got on here.

Cooking up all the healthy, nutrient-rich meals from scratch this week for a good hour in the kitchen also kept me on track, and away from unhealthier temptations too. The recipe boxes were filled with fresh vegetables and lean meat and no ultra-processed foods - so I was eating things like salmon and roasted veg, Korean beef with noodles and jerk pork with rice.

Combining a healthy diet with my daily walks, I could positively feel myself getting healthier across every day of the week.

This was reflected in my resting heart rate ratings on the Fitbit - I was amazed to see just what a dramatic impact eating a totally healthy diet, combined with the walking, was having and by the end of the week it was down to 71bpm.

It was also a big result on the scales as well - I dropped a total of six pounds this week.

Weight lost: - 6lbs

Average heart rate: 71bpm

Week Four - steady progress

Buoyed by the progress in week three, I started trying to actively add reasons for walking into my daily life. Meeting up with friends for a coffee was replaced by meeting them for a big, long walk (with a takeaway coffee for the journey).

Taking some shopping around to a relative would usually be done in the car, but instead I walked it.

I knew I wouldn't be losing loads of weight this week after that first week of dieting loss, but I was still really pleased to continue my progress with a weight loss of 2 pounds this week, making it 7lb lost in total across the month.

Now that I'm back in my healthy stride, I would hope to now continue along with this progress, losing an average of around 2lb a week.

Weight lost: - 2 lb

Average heart rate: 66bpm

What it did for my health

The big success of this project for me was watching the effect that a healthier regime was having on my heart rate.

This is the impact on her 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. -Credit:MEN

At the start of the month, my Fitbit showed I had a resting heart rate of 75bpm. When I first started out on the 10,000 steps, it had an immediate effect in bringing my heart rate down to 70bpm.

But then it evened out for a bit, and as I succumbed to more unhealthy foods I was dismayed to see it creeping back up, taking it to a high of 79bmp by mid-month.

It was at that stage that I addressed the diet side of my health - and, as you can see from the graph above, the diet coupled with the 10,000 steps had a real impact in bringing my resting heart rate down.

By the end of the month, my resting heart rate had reduced down to 65bpm where it has now stabilised for the past week or so.

The other big surprise for me was finding out the change in calorie burn for increasing my activity levels. 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.

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

If weight loss is a goal, you need to be burning more calories per day than you take in, so increasing the calories burned through walking can only be a good thing for me with the several stone I need to lose to get to a healthy weight.

The lessons I learned

Well, clearly the biggest lesson I learned over the course of the month is the old adage that you simply can't outrun (or outwalk) a bad diet.

Even though I was considerably increasing my exercise for those first two weeks, it had zero impact on me losing any weight at all - because I was clearly eating way too many calories even with the extra calories burned from the 10,000 steps.

It was only when I coupled the walking with a sensible, nutrient-rich diet, that the weight started to fall off.

Getting out and about walking was a great way to keep me motivated to stick to a healthier lifestyle overall, though. By the end of the month I started feeling able to add in some faster pacing, and even broke into the occasional jog without getting too out of breath, which is a decent step forward for me.

Indeed, so much so that I'm now feeling ready to start back with some gentle running again.

I can see how setting and hitting a personal goal like this with a fitness tracker can be motivating to people, as it does give you a sense of achievement when you can see that you've achieved the figure. I don't know if it was just the walking, but I did feel a sense of calm from getting out and moving more too.

Sticking to it so closely over the month also made me realise just how much walking I need to do to be getting to that sort of figure, which helps on days when I might not be wearing my Fitbit.

The best thing of all, of course, is that walking is a totally free exercise. Combining it with healthy eating has been a great way for me to improve my heart health, and so I'll continue on this path to try and lose more weight and get into better shape.

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