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10,000 Steps a day and getting knocked off track by illness

My third challenge is to walk 10,000 steps a day for a year. Why am I doing something as low-key as walking 10,000 steps a day? The answer is again simple, but important: it is the single lifestyle change that I can make that I think will have the biggest impact on my health and wellbeing. The only exception I am allowing myself is if I am significantly ill. Unfortunately, I had to invoke this during my second month.

Yes, with commitment to training, I can run 26.2 miles, and can accommodate up to 48 miles a week in training. But the days when I don't run, I sometimes don't get further than the kettle in the office. I decided to commit to this as my third challenge when I was shocked to see one evening that I had only clocked up just over 2,000 steps one day, which is less than a mile.

HEALTH BENEFITS

I want to change this now as I create my blueprint for my coming years and decades; I want to continue to enjoy good health through my 50s and beyond. While endurance training has undisputed health benefits (as well as putting your body through considerable strain), there is a lot of evidence that simply being active during the day yields significant benefits and is arguably one of the most important things for general good health:

  • The NHS recommends daily activity, with at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, and walking counts towards this.

  • The benefits of regular activity include reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, osteoarthiritis and depression.

  • A wide ranging study in America concluded that all adults should have 30 minutes' moderate activity on most – and preferably – all days of the week. It cites benefits including reduced back pain and reduced likelihood of disability, especially with age.

The timing is perfect. My father, who often walks our dog alongside his, has just had a knee replacement and can't walk at the moment, so I have to step up – literally – and assume more proactive dog ownership.

THE TERMS OF MY CHALLENGE

  • The challenge: 10,000 steps a day for a year – from my 50th birthday on 04.11.17 to 03.11.18

  • How I will measure it: On my fitness tracker

  • How I will keep myself accountable: by posting screengrabs weekly in the 50 Challenges Facebook group

A friend dismissed this challenge as not very hard; his wife, who is not an active person, manages 10,000 steps a day. That was missing the point; although his wife is not a sporty person, she has a more active lifestyle than me (significantly, she doesn’t do an office job), so easily achieves 10,000 steps a day within her normal routine. He’s right, in that for his wife, this would not be an appropriate challenge.

But, while I like to think of myself as an active person, my step tracker highlights my self-deception. Although I run, there are days when I don’t walk further than the kettle in the office, and manage only a paltry 2,000 or so steps in 24 hours. I exercise, but my lifestyle is not active. 10,000 steps a day – every day – is for me a very real, relevant challenge, which I anticipate will bring real benefits to my health and wellbeing.

And so, dismissing the naysayers, I began this challenge on my 50th birthday. The first week was incredibly easy, as I ran a marathon (my first challenge) on day 2. Being in New York, I continued to walk around the city taking in the sights on the following days, so my step tally remained impressive. I even hit my target on the day I flew home; walking along airport concourses saw to that.

The challenge really became a challenge when I got home and resumed my normal, office-based lifestyle. It became clear that I would have to rethink this; while I can’t change the nature of my work, I soon realised that I would have to build pockets of activity into my day. I had a double motivation in this; my father, who often walks our dog, is recuperating from a knee replacement, so I had to factor in walking my parents’ dog and ours as a daily activity.

But even the two-mile walk with the dogs is not enough to hit the 10,000-step target, when the rest of my day is spent at my computer (10,000 steps is roughly four miles for me). I would often get to the end of the working day and see that I had only hit 6,000 steps; a quiet evening at home with a bit of cooking and clearing would do little to dent the remaining steps needed to hit my daily target.

So before heading home for the evening, I started clipping the dogs to their leads and stomping along the main road towards town (the only road with street lights in our village). From our house to the sign denoting the end of the village is 1 mile; the dogs and I now regularly stomp there and back in the dark, avoiding the splashes from the cars as they hurtle through the puddles at the edge of the road.

I also started looking for other opportunities to get in extra steps. When my son is at football practice is an idea time. It’s in the centre of town and I thought the dogs would hate just walking along town streets, but it turns out they’re full of additional sniffs, so they have a regular field day!

Going out in the cold, dark – and often rain – may sound like a chore, rather than something to look forward to, especially when it’s already late and I really should already be touching base with the family. But I soon discovered that half an hour’s additional fresh air – even without the beauty of the countryside – is a wonderful tonic to clear your head, especially at the end of the working day. What was supposed to be a Body Challenge started to feel like a Soul Goal, as I found myself returning home after my additional 5,000-step stomp refreshed (rather than bleary-eyed and shattered), more positive and already properly out of work mode and into home mode. I confess that I am not someone who finds switching off from work easy, especially running my own business, but that half hour walking – with no aim other than walking – has really helped me.

One day when I nearly came a cropper with my target. I was in Bristol visiting a friend. Having gone for a 4-mile run earlier in the day I was confident that I had hit the 10,000 goal, but checked my step tracker just before getting into bed, to discover that I was 1,000 short. I was only a fortnight into my challenge and determined not to fail, so I pulled my boots and coat on and went for a 15-minute walk, even though it was nearly midnight. Was that the tail wagging the dog? Should I have let it go for the day and made up the steps the following day? I am not sure on the answer to that one; but I know that for my personal sense of achievement it was important for me not to fail to hit my target within the first month. So I didn’t!

Although I worked out during my first month of this challenge that I would have to adapt my lifestyle if I am to achieve it, it continues to be a real challenge to me, especially with the days getting shorter as we approached the winter solstice.

STEPS, NOT DISTANCE

A month after the New York marathon, I was beginning to pick up my running again, with a few early morning miles with my parents’ dog, which helps considerably towards achieving the 10,000 steps a day. However, it doesn’t mean I have got my steps in the bag before breakfast.

I never run less that four miles, and I know that four miles is roughly 10,000 steps for me, so I had assumed that a four-miler would mean ‘job done’. I had overlooked that when you run, you take longer strides. The Bellabeat Leaf which I use as my step tracker, measures steps only, not distance – and I have set my challenge as steps per day, rather than distance per day. So a four-mile run at the start of the day means only about 7,750 steps ticked off. However, it does mean I can pretty much guarantee that I will achieve the steps by the end of the day, even if I am in the office for most of it.

But, on the days when I don’t run, hitting 10,000 steps has continued to be a real challenge. In the summer months, I often head out with the dogs cross country after I have finished work for the day, but that’s not an option when it has been getting dark by 4pm. So I kept my tally up by more walking along the main road after dark; there is nothing romantic about it, but it is exercise and it does help me clear my head.

FREEZING TEMPERATURES AND ILLNESS

But this all came to a grinding halt when I got ill. Given the extent that people around me have been ill, I am pleased that I wasn’t more debilitated (my mother was completely wiped out for three weeks by a chest infection, and my assistant had repeat tonsillitis from the beginning of December); but it was enough for me to realise during the third week of December that I shouldn’t be running. I still managed to keep my steps up through walking, and a week later (23rd December) decided that I was well enough to start running again.

Having a friend’s dog to walk while she was on holiday was a boon to my steps average at this time, and helped me reach my target even on Christmas day. But running through sleet as the temperatures plummeted when I was not really recovered was definitely a mistake.

On the morning of 30th December, I woke to discover that my throat felt as though it had daggers in it and my legs felt like hot jelly. Sipping a cup of tea in bed, I realised I had to invoke the exemption to my challenge. Two days later, on the first day of 2018, I posted my view from my bed on social media – and that’s pretty much as far as energetic as I got all New Year’s Day (at least I could see my New York marathon medal hanging on the wardrobe).

My rule about being ill is that I have to make the steps up to make sure that I average at least 10,000 steps a day over all. Fortunately, I still averaged 13,563 steps a day, but that didn’t take away the disappointment at being laid low and having to take a break from the challenge.

MEET THE EXPERT: If you are inspired to make fitness part of your 50 Challenges then meet our 50 Challenges fitness and nutrition expert, Florentia Anastasiou of New Generation Personal Training, and take your first steps to your goal. Also have a look at our Health and Training Tips and join our Facebook community for extra motivation and support.

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