Taking 10,000 steps a day benefits your emotional well-being

By Bill Howatt

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Mental Fitness: The next frontier in workplace mental health’ is a monthly series, in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt of Howatt HR Consulting in Ottawa. This series takes a deeper look at mental fitness — an approach to prevent mental harm and promote mental health.

The mind and body are interconnected, meaning, focusing energy on our body can have a direct benefit to our emotional well-being. This is something I learned from my degree in physical education, and thirty-plus years work experience with clients in a clinical and workplace mental health setting.

In a recent mental fitness article I wrote, I suggested that mental fitness is easier to do than to think about. In my view, the number of things you can do for your mental health includes exercise, provided you are getting at least six hours of quality sleep a night. Case in point: taking 10,000 steps a day as an effective habit for promoting emotional well-being.

This habit does not require any learning, rather, it requires making it a priority and creating space to enjoy its benefits. One caution, though: if your physical health is poor or you are unsure of your cardiovascular health, working with your MD to create a set of goals (e.g., start with 2000 steps) under supervision is prudent.

It was encouraging to hear perhaps one of the leading evidence-driven psychologist Martin Seligman in his book Flourishing, where he also suggested the single, most important thing a person can do to positively impact their mental health: exercise. Seligman is an also a fan of setting the target to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day.

The evidence is compelling on the benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day. It is a proactive daily habit that supports emotional well-being. Below are four compelling sources that purport its benefits:

  • A study recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that taking as little as 4,400 steps every day could lower your mortality risk by 41 per cent.
  • This risk reportedly continued to decline until about 7,500 steps, when the mortality rate leveled off, notes a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report.
  • A recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26 per cent.
  • Those of use who engage in regular exercise will have better emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental illness.

Benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day

It is helpful to have context as to how taking this daily activity can have a direct benefit on your overall health and mental health. One scientific study found individuals who on average completed 10,000 steps had significantly lower anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, and total mood distress scores compared with measurements taken prior to the intervention. Further, the participants had higher vigor scores compared to baseline.

Reader’s Digest published walking 10,000 steps a day can:

  • Improve your lung strength by conditioning the muscles around the lungs that will increase your body to take in a use great level of oxygen referred to as VO2 max.
  • Improve you concentration as well boast feel good hormones that improve cognitive functioning.
  • Strengthen your bones that can decrease your risk for osteoporosis.
  • Helps to build muscles that increase strength and endurance.
  • Stabilize blood sugars by using up glucose in blood stream.
  • Can help to lower blood pressure.
  • Assist with increasing flexibility.
  • Boast over all energy level.
  • Release neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine all that help with improving mood control that supports emotional well-being.

Self-esteem is directly related to mental health. Those who engage in exercise like walking 10,000 steps a day increase the likelihood of charging their self-esteem, which in turn can help decrease perceived stressors, as well as aid with improving social connections. There is ample scientific evidence that those who buy into the benefits of walking daily are more likely to improve their emotional well-being and lower their risk for developing a mental illness.

Tips to getting up to 10,000 steps a day

Once you are cleared by your MD to achieve this goal, start by getting the proper footwear to protect your arches and calves. As with starting new habits, set a personal goal of minimum steps to hit six days a week. If you can push to doing it every day, great. However, keeping realistic goals is what will work. I recommend purchasing a step tracker app or wearable teach that will allow you to monitor your progress.

Finally, set the target to 10,000 steps a day. On days you only get 7,500 steps in, reset the goal for the next day.

Below are some tips that can help keep you motivated as well how to fit this goal into you life regardless how busy your schedule is:

  • Get an accountability partner with whom you report your daily steps to.
  • Build walking into your daily commute.
  • Drink lots of water that gets you up to get water and to rest room.
  • I personally found Link my English Bulldog is a great walking partner and motivator to take a daily walk to get him his exercise.
  • Park far away from office.
  • Do walking meetings.
  • Get an under-desk walking treadmill so you can walk and work at the same time.
  • Take stairs.
  • Get a treadmill or step climber for rainy days and winter.
  • Join a walking club.

Define an incentive every six months celebrate by treating yourself.