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I took 20,000 steps a day for a month. The results transformed me

When I was young, there was this man who walked all over my town, power walking at all hours of the day. I would go to school and see him, then I would come back from school and he would still be walking the streets.

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

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

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

This probably sounds funny, but I’ve been walking 15,000 steps a day since the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s already been transformative. I didn’t think taking an extra 5,000 steps a day would make such a difference.

But honestly, I do, both mentally and physically.

Robin Laird took 20,000 steps a day for 30 days and found the experience transformative.
Robin Laird

A concept that author James Clear talks about a lot in Atomic Habits is standardizing a new habit before optimizing it. Essentially, you need to create a new habit standard in your routine before modifying and refining it to achieve the perfect version.

When it comes to walking, it just means showing up and getting outside, without worrying about how many steps you take in a day.

Once you’re used to taking a daily walk and have standardized this habit, you can start optimizing it by increasing the number of steps, tracking your steps in more detail, perhaps getting a smart watch .

But it all starts with planting the seed of this habit in your daily or weekly routine so that it has space to grow. If something seems unmanageable, standardize it little by little before optimizing and developing it to its beautiful, most complete version.

I’ve noticed many benefits to taking 20,000 steps a day.

I slept so well. Walking so much every day makes your body feel like it’s done something, and you’re so ready to lie down and quickly fall into a deep sleep. I have noticed great improvements in the quality of my sleep.

My posture has improved. I feel like my shoulders are more open and I’m just taller because I walk a lot.

My body is also a little slimmer and more toned. I lost a few pounds of fat, but I also feel like I gained muscle over the month. I was also focusing on increasing my protein intake.

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

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

If I think back to my childhood, 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’m just less happy when I don’t.

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

If we view physical movement as a way to feel good rather than a punishment or weight loss, then we create an entirely different relationship with it. Physical activity is less about hitting a certain number on the scale and more about simply being your best self, feeling good, and enjoying each day.

I had such a happy month and I think a lot of that was due to so much walking.

The number one drawback, and the biggest objection I hear from everyone, is time. Walking takes a lot of time and 20,000 steps takes me several hours a day. To most people, it seems absurd to spend so much time moving.

One of my best tips is to combine walking with other activities of the day. I like to read every day, so I combine walking with reading audiobooks.

I also love walking and working, and I created this makeshift treadmill desk. I take my meetings and do my work on this treadmill, which allows me to walk during my work 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 sleep for eight of them and you work nine to five, so waste another eight hours. We still have eight hours left in our day, more than twice the time it takes to take 20,000 steps.

I really underestimated how much I was sitting around watching social media. During this month, I spent very little time scrolling. I watched two movies, but walked during them.

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

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

After a while of walking, there is a certain feeling, this metabolic state that I can’t really describe. It feels so sweet and good, a bit like a runner’s high. But it’s a walker’s exhilaration, and you reach this point where you feel like you can walk forever.

I have some 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 about self-care, longevity, and taking care of your skin. She talked about walking with your palms facing forward to improve your posture and I did it consciously.

This was a real game changer for me. By turning our palms outward, we force our chest to open. I feel like I walk around with a lot more confidence now, just in my body language. I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t care what I look like because the results speak for themselves.

Another thing I’ve done is carry small 1 pound weights on my ankles and wrists. These are buildable and you can put several on your arms and legs. It’s a way to gain a little more strength and stamina while walking. I’ll put these weights around my wrists and then do pumping movements to do high-rep toning exercises while I walk.

Walking briskly is another way to get the most out of your walks. If you really want to make it a more high-intensity workout, you can try things like 12-3-30 where you walk at a 12% incline at a speed of 3 miles per hour for 30 minutes. It’s like hiking uphill on a treadmill. Even walking briskly around your neighborhood and getting your heart rate up can help you make the most of your time.

If you don’t feel like taking a brisk walk, just walk around the block in a relaxed and 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 that’s probably another reason why I feel so good when I do it.

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

Many 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 see some of those numbers change.

I was afraid 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 develop intuition about my body.

I’m not telling you that you need to take 20,000 steps, but I would like you to feel inspired to consider walking more in your life.

If you currently take 3,000 steps a day, it doesn’t matter. I think most of us can spare an extra 20 minutes in a day to take a nice walk around the block, invite a friend for a walk, or 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 explains how our small daily habits turn into big life changes.

I want to emphasize that this journey is not just about walking. It’s also about accepting small changes and improving our daily routine. Whether you start with an extra walk or adopt another positive habit, remember that the path to transformation begins with a first step.

I know it’s so cliché, but it’s true, and that’s why walking has become a foundational habit for me. By taking those first literal steps and increasing my daily step count, I 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 is deeply passionate about health sciences, life philosophy, and all forms of experimentation in self-care.

All views are those of the author.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com.