It’s that time of the year where we get serious about our health and fitness goals. January and February are the months where we whip out our planners and journals, enthusiastically setting optimistic plans for what we want to achieve in the year ahead. After the beating our bodies took over the festivities of December, we decide that the new years period is the perfect opportunity to implement some new changes to our lifestyle. The most common goals we formulate during this time are the desire to lose weight, and increase our movement and activity levels. Given the health benefits that increasing our movement provides, it’s a great goal to have. For the office worker, it’s important that we intentionally make plans to increase our exercise levels, because it can be far too easy to slip back into the pattern of remaining rigid in an office chair for 8 hours a day, shoulders hunched over and legs stiff from lack of movement. It’s also not a particularly motivating environment, where the lack of sunlight, overbearing bosses and lingering deadlines create conditions in which movement is the least of your priorities.
Why We Should Be Walking More
We all hear about the importance of movement for our overall health and wellbeing. Walking has a plethora of physical health benefits, such as decreasing our risk of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses, decreasing our blood pressure, reducing our body fat, as well as reducing all-cause mortality. The benefits of walking are also psychological. Walking has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety, improve our sleep and concentration, protect against the development of depression and improve our overall wellbeing. We all know the benefits, but many of us still create excuses for our minimal steps, citing lack of time and motivation as the main reason why we don’t stick to the 10,000 steps a day goal we set every January.
For me personally, it took a few months of despondency and boredom at work to get serious about my steps. In 2020, after a poor run of mental health issues and feeding my body with excessive rubbish for too long, I made the intentional decision to improve my health in all aspects. One of the key things this health change included was focussing on movement and increasing my daily step count. I didn’t have the goal of trying to run 12,000 steps in one go, but rather to just be generally more active – increase the amount of steps I do bit-by-bit, throughout the day. I wanted to ensure I didn’t sit for over an hour in my office chair, letting the time slip away.
Why Some Of Us Aren’t Walking Enough
One of the major impediments to low activity throughout the day is that a huge chunk of our time is taken up at the pesky place we like to call work. Unless you’re handing our pamphlets in the local community or are a fitness trainer, for most of us our jobs impede our mission to increase our movement. If you are working 9 – 5 in an office and catching public transport or driving to work, the days can slip by at a rapid pace and by the time you’ve put on your joggers it’s 8pm and you’re exhausted from the sheer amount of morons you had to deal with at work that day. By the time you’re home, it’s miserably dark outside and you forgo the walk again because you don’t want to end up on a true crime podcast as that idiot who exercised on their own in the dark and was murdered for it. Grim.
How I Started increasing my Steps
When I first started working full-time, I struggled with many things. I was distraught at the mere thought of sitting in an office chair for the next forty years, whinging to colleagues about how shit our days are, with only four weeks of holidays to look forward to. I also struggled with the sedentary nature of the job. Why hadn’t I become a tennis coach like my bronzed and perpetually bubbly mother, who’s happy-go-lucky nature was surely the product of avoiding the gloomy confines of a window-less office and standing upright for the majority of her days? After a few months, I decided to get serious about my steps. I also kept stumbling across articles about sitting being the new cancer, as I sat there glued to the computer screen. Once I made the effort to increase my steps, it became easier and easier to reach 15,000 steps per day, until now it’s just part of my routine. Here are some suggestions if you want to walk more.
Spread Out Your Steps Throughout The Day
When most of us try and complete 10-15 thousand steps a day, it can seem daunting at first. We think it means walking for two hours straight, and the only people who have that much time on their hands are uni students and pensioners. For me, i made sure I spread out my steps throughout the day. The first thing I did was ensure I exercised before or after work. Exercising before work sets me up for a good day. If I don’t do any steps before I head into the office, I become a little bit antsy. After work is also the perfect time to get your steps up. If anyone has ever done anything productive between 5 and 6pm, then they deserve some type of national award. During this time, most of us tend to have our heads stuck in the fridge searching for a snack to accompany us as we scroll aimlessly on our phones, spacing out after the hectic heap of crap the preceding day thrust upon us. Going for a half an hour walk or jog will have both the psychological benefit of elevating your mood, as well as increasing your daily step count.
I also park about a twenty minute walk away from work. If you can do this, I would highly encourage it. Whilst sometimes it rains, or the sun is blaring down that by the time i get to work I’m a sweaty sweltering mess, most of the time it’s the perfect moment to gather my thoughts and psyche myself up for a big day, or zone out and listen to some music or comedic podcast. It also has the added benefit of saving me money, because I park in a spot which is free. Furthermore, my work place allows us a one hour lunch break, of which we do not get paid. Most places are like this – so why not utilise your lunch break in the best way you can? Yes, you could potentially scroll on your phone and nap, but you could also get out in the sunshine and walk for an hour – which will add thousands of steps to your tracker.
By doing half an hour walks on two or three occasions throughout the day, I was able to increase my steps significantly, whilst also feeling more energised and motivated to complete subsequent tasks throughout the day. Spacing out steps also never felkt like an arduous burden- it just became an excellent way to spend my break and regain my focus, or to start and finish my day on a positive note.
Make it Easier For Yourself
James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits” is basically the modern-day messiah when it comes to the topic of breaking bad habits and forming new ones. If you’ve read his blockbuster novel, you will have come across the notion that in order to form a positive habit, it’s a good idea to set up your environment in a way that makes it far easier to engage in that habit. That is, by reducing the roadblocks and impediments to the habit, and increasing the cues and ease-of-access to the object/items you need to facilitate the habit, it’s far more likely that you will stick to it.
In the case of increasing your steps throughout the day, there are numerous ways you can adapt your environment to make it easier to form this habit. You can ensure you pack your joggers and gym gear in your work bag the night before. You can ask one of your colleagues to join you on your daily walks for accountability. You can have reminders on your whiteboard of when you need to stand up at your desk (if you can), and tick it off when you have done so. You can have Spotify playlists or podcast saved and ready to go in anticipation of your walk. There’s many thing you can do to make walking more enticing and to make it easier to yourself to increase your steps.
Focus on Incidental Movement
Most of us don’t realise the cumulative impact that random little steps throughout the day can have on our overall step count. Remember, incidental steps add up to your overall step-count quite significantly. I notice the difference on the days when I am wandering around the office using the printer frequently or talking to colleagues at the other end of the office. In contrast, when I am sitting in the one spot drafting documents all day my step count is abysmal. Whilst it seems insignificant, all the little steps you do throughout the day count. Use your stand up desk. Walk to the kitchen to fill up your water as much as possible. Get up and stretch around every half an hour. You are not tied to your chair. Moreover, unless you are in a deep state of flow, the little breaks can actually help re-ignite your concentration and increase your work efficiency.
Reminding Yourself of How It Makes You Feel
Overall, it wasn’t the fear of cardiovascular disease or gaining weight that encouraged me to walk so much. The reason I removed myself from the slouched slumber time and time again was because I simply wanted to feel good. I knew that walking always had the ability to improve my mood, and make my day just a little bit better. Obviously putting on the joggers and stepping onto the concrete doesn’t confer the same high as a hit of heroin (so i’ve been told) and the positive effects on my mood were much more subtle, but nonetheless the impact was significant. No matter how crap i was feeling that day or how shit work was going, I at least could pop on a humorous podcast or absolute belter on Spotify, and that would at least improve my day. You too should use the intrinsic motivation to influence your behaviour and encourage you to break up your day with steps outside in the sunshine.
Since I made the decision to focus on increasing my daily steps, a number of things have changed. I am perpetually trying to remove the chip on my shoulder, that sits there with an aura of arrogance, looking down upon the lazy fucks that don’t hit the 10k mark on their steps. I kid. Walking, however, has become an instrumental part of my day. It has become a time to clear my head, listen to a podcast, and think about what the heck I want to do with my life. I always feel better after moving my body, often in the sun and with pretty blue waters to peer out to. Upon reflection, this article provides the main things I did to increase my step count, and ultimately what I suggest you do to improve your movement levels and overall wellbeing.