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What's Inside
NEW! Dr. Cooper’s Cholesterol-Lowering Advice
NEW! Quick Fit 15-Minute Exercise Program
18-Week Walk a Marathon Program
22-Week Faster Walking Marathon Program
20% Boost Program
Pre-Walk Warm-Up Routine
3-Minute Post Walk Stretch Routine
4 Tips for Faster Walking Technique
Strengthening
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The 20% Boost Program: Fit Walking into Your Life

The realistic way to build up to 10,000 steps a day.

The Program

The goal of taking 10,000 steps in a day is a rough equivalent to the Surgeon General's recommendation to accumulate 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. It should be enough to reduce your risk for disease and help you lead a longer, healthier life. But not everyone should start right out trying to get 10K a day. So instead take a comfortable, gradual approach -- the 20% Boost Program.

First, invest in a pedometer. Put a safety string through the pedometer's waist clip and pin it or loop it through a belt loop, so the pedometer isn't dropped down a toilet.

Now follow the simple program below. The first week, don't change your life at all; just learn your baseline average daily step total. Then, for the next two weeks try to boost that average by 20%. Be sure to follow the directions and fill in the simple log -- it's critical to helping you learn what adds steps to your day and what detracts. If you have questions, reference our FAQ.

Week 1:

The goal is to measure your steps in a typical week. Don't try to walk more than normal. Each morning, reset the pedometer to "0." Set it to show steps (ignore distance and calorie counts). Keep it closed and attached to the front of your waist to the left or right of center. Wear it all day from the moment you wake up until going to bed, except when immersed in water. At night remove it, record the number of steps you've taken in the log, and note if you did any formal exercise (wear your pedometer then, too); for example, "20-minute treadmill walk." Also note if anything caused more (museum tour) or fewer (all-day meeting) steps than usual in your day. Attach your pedometer to your shoe if you bicycle and the pedometer doesn't seem to count your pedaling.

Week 1 Log
Date: Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. Fri. Sat. Sun.
Steps Today:              
Exercise minutes?              
More or less than usual?              

Add steps for all seven days:
Divide by 7:
Multiply by 1.2: (This is your goal for week #2.)

Week 2:

Your goal is to boost your average daily steps by 20%. Add the total steps taken in week one and divide by seven. Then multiply by 1.2. The result is your new target number for daily steps. So, if you averaged 3,000 steps a day in week one, try for 3,600 a day in week two. How you reach your goal is up to you. Most physical activity counts, including formal workouts (a brisk walk, using most exercise machines) and informal exercise (taking the stairs instead of the elevator or even pacing on the subway platform).

Week 2 Log
Average Steps Week#1:
Goal average for week #2:
Date: Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. Fri. Sat. Sun.
Steps Today:              
Exercise minutes?              
More or less than usual?              

Add steps for all seven days:
Divide by 7:
Multiply by 1.2: (This is your goal for week #3.)

Week 3:

If you haven't reached 10,000 steps, or if your goal is substantial weight loss (for which many experts recommend 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day), then boost your steps again by 20%. Calculate your second week's daily average and multiply by 1.2. If aerobic fitness is a goal, try boosting the speed of at least 2,000 to 4,000 of the steps you're already doing.

Week 3 Log
Average Steps Week#2:
Goal average for week #3:
Date: Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. Fri. Sat. Sun.
Steps Today:              
Exercise minutes?              
More or less than usual?              

Weeks #4 and beyond:

Some people find that just with three weeks of effort they've gotten their daily step average close to or beyond 10,000. But many find it takes several more weeks of boosting by 20% each week until they can create a 10,000 step-per-day habit. Even if you only try for 10% more each week, you'll soon find that your days are full of opportunities for more steps. You'll also find that in short order you won't need a pedometer to tell you how you're doing. For example, if you get off the train a stop early or take a walk at lunch you know you'll hit your total, but otherwise you come up short. However, consider using your pedometer whenever you need a step-check.

Answers to some common questions:

How many steps do I need?

Here are some rough targets:

For long term health and reduced chronic disease risk: 10,000 steps a day
For successful, sustained weight loss: 12,000 - 15,000 steps a day
To build aerobic fitness: Make 3,000 or more of your daily steps fast

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Where do I get a pedometer?
Pedometers can be found in many sporting goods stores or you can buy them directly from manufacturers. Yamax digital pedometers, called Digiwalkers, are recognized to be one of the most accurate and consistent lines of pedometers. They can be found in stores as Digiwalkers, or as Accusplit Eagle digital pedometers (the same product with a different name). Another company, Accusplit, also markets simple but reliable analog pedometers; slightly less accurate than the digital devices, but ideal for bulk purchases and as prizes, since they retail for about $10.

For direct sales or for bulk pricing, contact:

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Does bicycling count?
The beauty of bikes is that they're very quick and efficient. But that means your energy expenditure per mile can be much lower than walking. For simplicity sake, attach your pedometer to your shoe, and let it count the pedal strokes while riding. (Attaching to the shoe is also an option for people who find that a pedometer worn on the waistband doesn't record their steps consistently, perhaps because of a high waist.) Counting pedal strokes will result in far fewer steps than if you walked the same distance. But if you think in terms of time invested (a 20-minute ride compared to a 20-minute walk), by pedaling the whole time you can still get a similar number of steps in for a given amount of time. If your count is low (say, you get 2,000 steps in 20 minutes of walking, but only 1,000 pedal strokes in 20 minutes of riding), then there's a good chance you're spending a lot of time coasting on the bike. Focus on keeping your feet moving, just as when walking.

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How far have I been walking?
If you want to know not just the number of steps you've taken, but the distance as well, you can calibrate a pedometer. The simplest way is to wear it while walking a known distance, such as once around a quarter-mile track, at your normal walking speed. Then multiply that number of steps by four, and you know your typical number of steps per mile. (For greater accuracy, you should walk a full mile-four times around the track). Now, anytime you want to estimate the distance you've walked, just divide the total number of steps you've taken by your "steps per mile" calibration. Keep in mind it's just an estimate, because the length of your stride increases as you walk faster. So, on faster walks you'll be underestimating the distance somewhat, and on slower walks you'll overestimate a bit.

Some pedometers allow you to enter your step length (based on a calibration walk) and they will calculate your walking distance automatically. Fancier models will even estimate the calories you burn if you enter your body weight as well. But don't count on these calorie estimates to be particularly accurate, given the wide variation of fitness levels and personal physiology of individuals.

Example:
Jan wears her pedometer for a walk around the quarter-mile school track -- it counts 473 steps. She multiplies by four, to estimate that she takes about 1,892 steps a mile. (For easier math, she calls it 1900 steps.) Another day she takes a walk and covers 6,685 steps. Jan divides 6,685 by 1900, and gets 3.52, or about three and a half miles walked.

To calculate a step length, divide the known distance you've walked in feet by the number of steps you've taken. A quarter mile walk is 1,320 feet long (a mile is 5,280 feet). So Jan divides 1,320 feet by her 473 steps, and learns each step is 2.79 feet long. Now she can enter that in the pedometer.

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How do we make the 20% boost programs stick at work?
Of course, the real key to success is not to stop at just using a pedometer. Once you start looking at how to get more steps in your days, you'll also begin looking at your environment. Ask the wellness program at your work site to consider making pedometers available to employees. Then make the following suggestions, so it's easy to get more steps.

  • Open and clean up stairwells. Make them light, clean, safe, and well-ventilated. Stairs are a great place to get more steps; ideally, they should be more convenient and pleasant than the elevators!
  • Institute mass-transit programs. How about free bus or train passes with your pedometer? (Walking to and from the bus will garner tons of steps.)
  • Launch a massive car and van-pool program. Get the transportation folks involved -- look at a map of where employees live, and match up those near to one another to ride together.
  • Set up designated rendezvous sites, for car pool and van riders, where everyone gets a little walk (except the person who's day it is to drive). I guarantee they'll look forward to being the non-driver, and thus getting in more steps.
  • Stop subsidizing driving. If employees get free parking spaces, STOP IT IMMEDIATELY. Instead, give them the cash equivalent of the cost of parking if they walk, bike, or take transit to work.
  • Install covered, secure bicycle parking. Take the five car parking spaces closest to the entrances, and make them a bike corral. Better yet, park the bikes inside the main foyer of the building -- we're not kidding! Let every employee see those bikes as they walk in from their cars and think, "Hey, that looks so much more appealing…"
  • Make showers and lockers available. Anyone who wishes to walk briskly, run, or bicycle to work or during the day should be able to clean up and change afterward.
  • Build a trail on or near company grounds. Make it connect to nearby sidewalks, trails, and parkland, so that people can walk to do errands or simply for fun.
  • Adopt a nearby trail. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, East Coast Greenway Association, and other national and regional trail organizations are working to create networks of trails and greenways around the country for transportation and recreation. Instead of adopting a highway, have your company help build, maintain, and even patrol a section of trail. The work is enjoyable and rewarding exercise, and you're creating a permanent improvement for all to enjoy.

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