Americans move a lot less than citizens of other countries. Average daily step counts vary quite a bit around the world: the U.S. ranks 30th, with an average daily step count of 4,774, while Hong Kong comes first, at 6,880 steps per day. Outside of counting steps, there are other measures by which we fall behind in terms of physical fitness and exercise. Even though our step count (4,774) is similar to Mexico’s (4,692), the US’s obesity rate is higher: 3 8% (US) compared to 32.4% (Mexico).
These figures are sobering. Many of us struggle with our weight and activity levels, largely because we are an especially work-obsessed nation. And yet it’s important to our physical and mental health, to our relationships with others, and our overall sense of well-being to be active.
We all know this, but how do we actually put our intentions into actions? It might be easier than you think.
Measure, measure, measure.
All you have to do, really, is measure your activity. Be totally honest with yourself, without judgment.
Measure how much you move. How often are you active? How many times do you work out every week? For how long? What type of workout? How strenuous is the activity?
Count how many steps you take. Some of us drive to work, while other of us might walk well over a mile each way to get there. These steps count for a lot. If you don’t get a chance to move a lot at your job, or during your commute, find reasons to move – during a lunch break, while making a phone call, or just when you need a moment to think.
Finally, measure how much you stand, sit, and move around. Becoming aware of your sedentary activities and your active moving will give you a better picture of how active you are overall.
When you have a better picture of your overall activity levels, improvement will come, slowly but surely. You will find yourself unconsciously trying to up your step counts or number of workouts. This, in turn, will boost your health. Moving helps us stay active, decrease obesity, boost heart health, increases our energy levels.
Motivation and Goals
Measurement helps gives you the motivation you need! But as you become aware of that tendency toward wanting to improve yourself and increase your physical activity, you might find these four tips helpful.
1. It doesn’t matter how you measure it: just do it.
Some people use fitness tracking watches (see the many models of Fitbit, Garmin, etc.) to get tons of data automatically on their phone apps; others prefer the low-tech (and low-cost) solution of just logging it in a physical book. It honestly doesn’t matter which way you choose to go.
It’s sort of like playing games, you either want to make some numbers higher or lower; think, for example, about board games like Agricola or the many mobile games that require you to use “coins” to purchase certain tools or power-ups. You choose which things to prioritize (increasing your number of steps or spending less time sitting), and then work toward better fitness in that domain.
2. Talk about it with your friends or accountability partners.
It’s nice to know how you are doing, whether you’re doing great or need a little extra push. But either way, it’s more fun to work toward goals when you can compare with peers and add a little competition (or warm encouragement) to make it fun!
This is the philosophy behind programs like Strava that connect workout logs with social media. You can pursue different targets – or the same ones, if you have similar goals – and make a point to talk about your progress with friends for accountability.
3. Create and stick to clear goals.
10,000 steps (equates to roughly five miles) per day is a good target for overall activity. If you are an able-bodied person who can walk without trouble, try to make this your goal. When you have this target, you’ll try to meet it. It’s helpful encouragement to keep you moving more!
Or if you have a gym membership, go to a yoga studio, or swim at your school’s gym, set a tangible and clear goal. Log it when you complete it, and make a note of it when you don’t. The goal is transparency and honesty with yourself; with this kind of visible marker of your progress or lack thereof, you have a much higher chance of success!
4. Be kind to yourself and revise when necessary.
Even though it’s key to set tangible goals, it’s equally important to be aware of your limitations. If you have very little experience with exercise, or if you’re injured or feeling unusual pangs or aches, take it easy. It is quite possible to overexert and injure yourself. As you work toward goals, do it mindfully. Check in with yourself often.
There are also small ways to get more active, and these are good ways to implement more physical activity without any risk at all. Instead of going thru drive-in for food, walk there. Instead of taking the elevator all the time, take the stairs. Instead of sitting all day long in office, stand a while or walk around some time.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not enough, but it’s important. Make sure to augment your little fixes with both aerobic workouts and strength-training activities. And every time you do, log it, measure it, and adjust your goals!
Featured photo credit: Photo by dan carlson on Unsplash via unsplash.com
|CBS News: Daily step counts: Which countries are most active – and which are least?
|Market Watch: The U.S. is the most obese nation in the world, just ahead of Mexico
|Heart Foundation: Benefits of moving more