Here's What Happened to My Body (and Mind) When I Walked 15,000 Steps a Day

Sure, I lost a few pounds, but that wasn’t all.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

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By Taylor Lupo

We've heard it time and time again—sitting is really bad for us. Prolonged periods of sitting can up your risk for obesity, high blood pressure and even increase your risk of dying from conditions like heart disease and cancer.

If you're anything like me, a writer who spends a minimum of eight hours a day nestled in her desk chair, you know just how hard it can be to get your legs moving. On an average day, I walk about 5,000 steps—most of which I accumulate on my commute to and from work.

But a measly 5,000 strides is hardly enough movement to negate the damage day-long sitting does to my body. And while taking 10,000 steps each day, a concept created by a Japanese company in the 1960s and made popular by research in the years to follow, boasts some benefits, walking 15,000 is linked to even more positive outcomes.

A 2017 study suggests people with higher levels of daily activity are less likely to develop conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, like hypertension, high blood pressure and excess body fat.

There were 111 participants in this particular study. Those without metabolic syndrome had something in common—they walked a minimum of 15,000 steps a day.

Thus, I embarked on a 30-day challenge, during which my goal was to take 15,000 steps a day. It went a little something like this.

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Effortless ways to track your steps

There are a number of ways to track your daily movement, including wearable technology and applications you can download directly to your mobile device.

Wearable trackers, like smart watches and the Fitbit, are convenient, but can be pricey. Free apps, like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android, exist to make your life a little easier. Once you open the app and activate the step tracker, you'll be good to go.

Just keep your phone with you when you're out and about—in your hand, tucked into your pocket or stowed in your purse. And let's face it, most of us keep our cellphones glued to the palms of our hands anyway.

You'd be surprised how much trips to the bathroom and kitchen can help get your steps. The key? Don’t forget to bring your phone along. What helped me: Keeping my phone visible—on my desk or a nearby table—reminded me to pick it up each time I got out of my seat.

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I learned how little I actually move at work

Despite having a job that keeps me at my desk for a large portion of the day, I never thought of myself as particularly sedentary. I make my best effort to get to the gym throughout the week, although I admit, that may be just once or twice.

Still, I was surprised to discover how few strides I take on an average day—just 5,000.

Determined to see the challenge through, I knew there would be some changes I had to make if I wanted to reach my 15,000 step goal.

  • I parked my car further from the entrance of stores, restaurants and the train station.
  • Instead of sitting or standing while awaiting the train's arrival, I paced. Lucky for me, the trains hardly run on schedule, giving me time to pick up a few hundred steps.
  • I used the restroom further from my desk at work.

In lieu of rushing in and out of stores, I took a stroll down aisles I don’t usually frequent—much to the dismay of my wallet.

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I was more productive before and after work

Aimlessly meandering around a seven-room apartment proved very boring, very quickly. And marching in front of the TV wasn't my favorite activity, either.

So, I was constantly on the hunt for ways to keep myself busy and add steps to my pedometer. Quickly enough, once dreaded chores, like vacuuming, laundry and loading the dishwasher became part of my nightly routine.

I also stopped saving errands for the weekend and started ticking more tasks off my to-do list during the week. Grocery shopping, picking up and dropping off dry cleaning and swinging by the bank became regular weeknight activities. Although these chores didn't require a ton of steps, they helped up my count on days I found it difficult to reach my goal.

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I slept better at night

I'm typically an early riser, but I'm not one to hit the hay too early. Even when I do slide into bed at a decent hour—usually sometime before midnight—I can spend up to a few hours tossing and turning.

Well, not this past month. Because I spent the greater part of my day in a seated position, I had to make up for lost time during the evening hours. From the time I finished my evening commute until my head hit the pillow, I was up and moving.

The 10,000 additional steps I took each day must have worn me out, because I had no trouble sleeping during the challenge. Of course, I had a restless night here or there, but there were definitely marked improvements in my beauty rest.

If you're someone who struggles to reach the recommended seven to nine hours of shuteye a night, walking more throughout the day may help.

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I rediscovered how much I like a little alone time

I spend much of my day surrounded by people, and believe me, I don't hate it. But I had become so accustomed to the company, I'd almost forgotten how important a little alone time can be. There are even some science-backed benefits to evading the company of others, like a boost in creativity, an uptick in productivity and a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Getting time to myself at work can be tricky, but I made an effort to find solace where I could. Whenever possible, I bypassed the office coffee machine and took a quick walk to one of the nearby coffee shops. This served a double purpose—coffee makes me happy and these trips added more steps to my daily total.

I squeezed in solo steps after work, too. Even on days I met friends at the gym, I made a point to get there about 30 minutes early and spend some quality time with myself (and my headphones) on the treadmill.

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I lost a few pounds—and you can too

I'll be honest—the results weren't all that impressive, but a loss of five pounds is better than nothing. Right?

Although your calorie expenditure varies based on a number of things—age, weight and gender—a 155-pound person can burn about 150 calories with just 30 minutes of leisurely walking.

If you're looking to slim down, coupling extra steps with a healthy diet can help boost weight loss. A balanced diet includes a mix of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and good-for-you fats.

Want to eat lunch like me? While I prep, pack and enjoy a variety of different afternoon meals, a recent favorite has been a flavorful combination of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, English cucumber, Kalamata olives and chickpeas. I drizzle this filling salad with olive oil and a bit of white balsamic vinegar before digging in.

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Here's what I didn't like…

Committing to walking 15,000 steps a day with a desk job was certainly not ideal for me, but I've never been one to turn down a challenge. Determined to complete it, I tried a number of techniques to reach my goal.

One approach that proved less-than-effective at increasing my steps was setting an alarm each hour, on the hour. In theory, these alerts would remind me to get out of my seat and get some steps in. In reality, it was simply annoying. I tuned off the blaring noise each time it sounded, without getting up to move.

Another less-than-ideal outcome? Having to spend my nights almost entirely on my feet. There were times the thought of quitting was almost too good to pass up—and coincidentally, these were the days and nights my bank account began to resent me for.

Afternoon coffee runs and nighttime shopping trips were easy (and enjoyable) ways to get more steps, but resulted in financial sacrifices. In other words, I spent more money than I normally would—or should—have during the month-long endeavor.

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…and what I plan to do next

I can't say the challenge was all bad, though. In fact, there are some lessons I will surely grow from, and tweaks I will continue to use well beyond the 30-day mark.

Parking further from my destination proved to be an effortless way to increase my steps, and is something I will continue to do.

I also found that stepping away from my desk was helpful for both my physical and mental health. And while my bank account can't necessarily endure a daily Starbucks hit, I do plan to make an afternoon stroll, to get coffee or otherwise, part of my weekly routine.

So, what did I learn from all of this? I didn't realize how few steps I actually took, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Taking 15,000 steps a day is hard, but it's certainly possible—and worth it.

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