I Walked 20k Steps a Day for a Month. The Results Transformed Me

When I was young, there was this man who would walk all around my town, speed walking at every hour of the day. I would go to school and see him, and then I would come back from school and he would still be walking around the streets.

I thought: “Why is this man walking? Where is he walking to? And how does he have so much time to walk?”

For one month, I decided to follow in his footsteps.

I spent 30 days walking 20,000 steps a day, and it was a far more transformative experience than I had expected.

This probably sounds funny, but I have been walking 15,000 steps a day since the coronavirus pandemic, and that was already transformative. I didn’t think walking an extra 5,000 steps a day would make that much of a difference.

But it honestly has, both mentally and physically.

A concept that the author James Clear talks a lot about in Atomic Habits is standardizing a new habit before you optimize it. Essentially, you should make a new habit standard in your routine before you tweak and refine it to the perfect version.

When it comes to walking, that just means showing up and stepping outside, and not concerning yourself with how many steps a day you’re getting.

Once you’re used to taking a daily walk and you have standardized that habit, you can start to optimize it by increasing your step count, tracking your steps in more detail, perhaps getting a smart watch.

But it all starts with planting the seed of that habit in your everyday or weekly routine so that it has space to grow. If something seems unmanageable, standardize it in a baby step before you optimize and grow it to its fullest beautiful version.

I noticed quite a few benefits from walking 20,000 steps a day.

I have been sleeping so beautifully. Walking that much every day makes your body feels like it’s done something, and you are so ready to lay down and quickly fall into a deep slumber. I have noticed great improvements in my sleep quality.

My posture has gotten better. I feel like my shoulders are more open and I just stand taller because I am walking so much.

My body is a little leaner and more toned, too. I’ve lost a few pounds of fat, but I feel like I gained muscle during the month, too. I was also focused on increasing my protein intake.

The next benefit is perhaps the most notable and the reason I know I’ll walk for the rest of my life: emotional stability and resilience.

I noticed that by spending so much time walking every day my emotions have been amazing. I’m genuinely so positive. I feel balanced and like I’m in touch with a true, deep, happy version of myself.

If I think back to myself as a kid, I always loved running outside and moving around. Moving my body is how I feel happiest, so walking has really become a form of mental health and meditation for me. I am just less happy when I don’t do it.

I see huge improvements in the way that I feel. And this is true for many types of physical activity. I remember reading The Joy of Movement, which talks about how exercise releases so many endogenous drugs in our body that make us feel good.

If we think of physical movement as a way to feel amazing rather than as a punishment or to lose weight, then we create an entirely different relationship with it. Physical activity becomes less about hitting a certain number on the scale and more about just being our best selves, feeling good, and enjoying every day.

I had such a happy month and I think a lot of it had to do with so much walking.

The number one con, and the primary objection that I hear from everyone, is the time. Walking takes a lot of time, and 20,000 steps takes several hours of my day. For most people, it sounds absurd to devote that much of your day to moving.

One of my best tips is to combine walking with other things you have to do in your day. I like to read every day, so I combine walking with reading through audiobooks.

I also like to walk and work, and I have created this makeshift treadmill desk. I have been taking my meetings and doing my work on this treadmill, which allows me to walk during my working hours.

I think most of us underestimate how much time we have in a day. Think about it. We have 24 hours in a day. Let’s say we’re sleeping for eight of those, and you work a nine to five job, so throw another eight hours out. We still have eight hours in our day, which is more than twice as much time you need to walk 20,000 steps.

I really underestimated how much I was just sitting around, scrolling on social media. For that month, I spent very little time scrolling. I did watch two movies, but I walked during them.

That’s another thing: If you just want to watch a leisurely show, why not do it while walking?

Walking can be very relaxing, and it doesn’t always need to be a high intensity walk. You can put a treadmill super low and you can be walking calmly while watching a movie. After a few minutes, you probably won’t even realize you’re walking.

After a while of walking, there’s a certain feeling, this metabolic state that I can’t really describe. It feels to me so smooth and good, kind of like a runner’s high. But it’s a walker’s high, and you hit this point where you feel like you could walk forever.

I have a few tips to help you get the most out of your walking. The first I learned from a fellow YouTuber called Rachel, who makes great videos on self-care longevity and taking care of your skin. She talked about walking with your palms forward to improve your posture and I have been consciously doing this.

It was such a game-changer for me. By turning our palms outward, we force our chest to open up. I feel like I walk around with so much more confidence now just in my body language. I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t even care what I look like because the results speak for themselves.

Another thing I’ve been doing is carrying around little 1lb ankle and wrist weights. These are buildable and you can put multiple of them on your arms and your legs. It’s a way to get a little bit more strength and resistance training while walking. I’ll put these weights around my wrists and then do kind of pumping motions to do high rep toning exercises in while I’m walking.

Walking briskly is another way to get the most out of your walks. If you really want to turn it into a higher intensity workout, you can try things like 12-3-30 where you walk at a 12 percent incline at a speed of 3 miles per hour for 30 minutes. This is like an upward hike on a treadmill. Even walking briskly around your neighborhood and getting your heartrate up can help you get the most out of your time.

If you don’t feel like walking briskly, just take a walk around the block in a relaxed, leisurely manner. It’s still so good for you.

Many exercises like high intensity interval training increase our cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Walking is a type of physical activity that reduces our cortisol and is probably another reason I feel so good when I do it.

My last tip, for the true biohacking nerds out there, is to track your body using tools to measure things, like your resting heart rate or whether you’re burning carbs or fat.

A lot of people like to use activity trackers. It’s so cool to see how your biometrics change as you increase your daily step count and it can be very motivating to watch some of those numbers shift.

I used to fear that self-monitoring tools would disconnect me from my own body. But in recent years, I’ve used them to deepen my own connection with my body—through direct feedback, which helps me build intuition about my body.

I’m not telling you that you have to walk 20,000 steps, but I would love if you felt inspired to consider walking more in your life.

If you’re currently walking 3,000 steps a day, it doesn’t matter. I think most of us can carve out 20 more minutes in a day to go for that nice walk around the block, or to invite a friend along for a walk, or to listen to an audiobook on a treadmill.

And if you’re looking for a little extra inspiration to make those healthy choices every day, I highly recommend reading the book The Slight Edge, which talks about is how our little daily habits compound into big life changes.

I want to emphasize that this journey isn’t just about walking. It’s also about embracing small changes and improvements to our daily routine. Whether you’re starting with an extra walk, or adopting another positive habit, remember that the path to transformation begins with a first step.

I know that is so cliché, but it is true, and that is why walking has become such a keystone habit for me. By taking those literal first steps and increasing my daily step count I have learned that I can take those first steps in other areas of my life.

Robin Laird runs The Science of Self Care channel on YouTube. She’s deeply passionate about health science, life philosophy, and all forms of self-care experimentation.

All views are the author’s own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at [email protected].

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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