30K A Day

“How do you get 30,000 steps a day? That’s like running a marathon.”

This was a question that I received from a co-worker earlier today. To give you context, the company I work for subscribes to the Virgin Health Miles program–which is a deal where you wear a pedometer and register your steps and as you gain levels you get points (health miles), and after a certain number of points you get money off your health care costs.

The past week or so, the program has been running a company-wide “challenge” where teams of us employees are gathered together, and the team that averages the most steps per person wins. The most you’re allowed to get in a day is 30K. You can walk more, of course, but anything above that doesn’t count. I average about 23-25K a day on the usual day, but since the challenge started, I’ve upped my game and am getting 30-35K a day.

Hence the question.

A subtext of the question is that there exists a running theme among some folks who suggest that this is impossible to get. Now, I admit there were a few who were getting 100K in a day, and I find my mind boggles at that number. I agree someone needs to look at that kind of number. But the feeling that a 30,000 step day is equivalent to running a marathon every day…well, this is really not right. I mean, yes, I get what they are trying to say. But (aside from the fact that 30K steps will not get me close 26 miles) it also plays to the whole idea that human beings are incredible bad at estimating things like this. I say this because this concept (equating daily steps to running a long-distance race), is a very popular one in the chat areas of the company’s message board related to this challenge. A lot of people think like this, and so a lot of people are, in my opinion, misguided.

I’ll tell you what I think the right way to look at the problem is in a moment.

But let me stop here and tell you that my answer to the question of how I get 30,000 steps in a day is simple–I do my very best to remain in motion in about every minute that I can. I park as far away from my office as I can, I walk to lunch, I walk extra distances to meetings while at work, I walk to dinner whenever I can (rather than drive), I hit the treadmill desks while at work rather than read email at my desk. When I have something to read at work, I get up out of my chair and walk around the building while I read. While I edit my stories, I’ve taken to working on paper, standing and walking in place (I would love a treadmill desk at home). While watching TV, I’m often moving–especially during commercials. Today (while walking to dinner) we stopped at the health club and between lifting weights I run in place or walk or in some other way move.

When I mentioned some of the things I do, it seemed to kind of blow this guy’s mind. For example, I walk between two buildings at work that pretty much everyone else drives between (COB/IOB and CEP, for those who work with me). I don’t think he agreed with me, but the bottom line here is that to walk takes 8 minutes. To drive takes 12. I know because I’ve timed it. But people just don’t think about it this way. It’s faster to walk because you don’t have to deal with any parking lot losses.


This is not something that I (or my beloved better half, Lisa) have done specifically for the challenge. It’s the basic way we’re living our life now. It’s a decision we made two or more years ago.

I note here (proudly) that this evening, as fate would have it, I crossed the 10 Million Step mark in the 17 or 18 months since the program started. Lisa, I must also admit, crossed this barrier over a month ago. Here’s my special banner. ๐Ÿ™‚

When you’re used to doing 23-25K a day, 30K just takes a little extra attention. (Aside– it’s actually almost impossible for me to finish a day with less than 12,000 steps anymore. Something really unusual has to happen for me to be that low.)

But let me get to my comment that this accentuates the point that people are bad at estimating or assessing these kinds of things.

First, 30K steps in a day is closer to 15 miles, or a mini-marathon, not a marathon. So this analogy is just off. I think most people get this, but I still see it often.

Second, if a marathoner runs his 50,000 step race, the right question is then “how many steps does she finish the day with?” My guess is they finish the day with considerably more, let’s say 60-70K would not be too surprising–that, of course, assumes they walk 10-20K steps in the rest of their day, which is not too over-the-top for a person of that fitness. This leads to …

Third, 30K steps in a 24-hour day is very, very different from 30K steps in a single 2-hour race. This is probably the biggest example of people framing the problem incorrectly. Using the marathon idea is fun and simple, but in no way can you equate taking 30K steps in a day to the process of taking 30K steps in a race. 30K steps taken at a running pace is a huge expenditure of energy. 30K steps taken at a leisurely pace is … well … much easier.

So, Ron, I hear you say … what’s the right way to look at this?

Well … try this on for size:

30K steps in a single day is better equated to the idea that since you are probably awake 18 hours a day, and so you need about 1600 steps an hour to get 30K. That means you need to average about .8 Miles Per Hour to do the task. This is very low impact. All you need to do to make this happen is stay in motion as much of the day as you can.

For example, if I walk 4 MPH, I need to walk just under 4 hours sometime during the day…so I could be stationary for 14 hours and still get 30K steps. I walk at an almost painfully slow 2 MPH, I need to be in some form of motion for 8 hours–so I can be stationary 10 hours and still meet my goal. The challenge for most of us, though, is to find ways to be in some form of motion for 8 hours, but this is actually very achievable if you actively work to find ways to be in motion during or between your everyday tasks.

I should tell you, for example, that I also wear my pedometer the entire day–from the minute I get out of bed to the minute I go to bed. This is why I can tell you I get about 150 steps while getting the paper in during the morning (does that qualify as too much information? … I’m 100% it qualifies as evidence of my nerd-dom and my fixation on measures and numbers … but I digress). It’s rare that I leave the house in the morning with less than 3,000 steps. The last few days it’s been 7-8,000 because I’ve been editing standing up and moving.

The problem, I think, is that people enter into this situation with a mindset that is based on the idea that exercise means “working out” or making some effort to do something special. But that’s more than a bit narrow-minded. This has to change. You get those kinds of numbers by moving a lot. I get 20+K steps a day because Lisa and I made a choice over two years ago to fundamentally change our lifestyles. Back then I weighed 195 pounds and I sat on the couch all night before going to bed. Now I weigh 164 or so (and have been steady at that or lower for over a year) and routinely get comments from co-workers who live in my neighborhood that they saw Lisa and I out walking or biking or at the health club the other night. Now I rarely “just” veg out in front of the TV (don’t get me wrong … I watch TV, I just find ways to be active either during it or at least during commercials!).

I admit that I was (at that point two+ years ago) a person who thought no one with an office job could never make 12,000 steps a day. So I get it. And then I thought 15K a day was hard to imagine. Then 20K was tough to keep up with. And now I hit 20K a day as a routine number (I went back and saw I was under 20K only five or six days the two months prior to the challenge). So hitting 30K really just meant I had to step it up a little.

Now, I don’t think everyone should do 30K a day. It’s really a bit much. I’m doing it now because the challenge makes it kinda fun. But everyone, I think, should be looking for opportunities to do what they want to do rather than getting stuck due to limitations brought on by their own way of thinking. In the step-game, if you do 5K a day, you can find a way to do 7K, for example. Just do it. Make up your mind and to it.

I’m trying to do better at that in other areas of my own life these days, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

And, in all seriousness, folks, let me state for once and for all … I cannot run a mini-marathon. Not now, anyway. I am not fit enough to run 13 miles at a shot. But I’ll bet you anything that I can walk a mini-marathon every day of the week if you let me count every step I take from the minute I wake up and keep track of it all day until I go to bed.

And that’s how I think everyone interested in getting active ought be thinking.

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  1. Ron, you are spot on with your analysis. When I ran the New York Marathon, I estimate that I did around 65000 steps for the day. The marathon itself accounted for about 50000 steps. It was about another mile to initially get to the buses to the starting point. After it was finished, it was a couple miles back to the hotel. Then walking to dinner and just general moving the rest of the evening got me the rest of the way to 65k.

    These days I average between 25-30k when not participating in a long run. Some days, most of that is accomplished in 1 or 2 long efforts. Other days, 15 minutes on the hour of walking indoors. It can be quite an effort or sometimes no effort at all. I’m aiming for a million steps in the month of August. That will be just over 32k a day. The logistics of the effort are very interesting to me.

    Sounds like you and your significant other are having great success. Thanks for sharing your observations and achievements.

  2. Sounds excessive and addictive to me. If you need to be validated by receiving a step badge for spending 6 hours a day walking, that is unfortunate. Life is short, it’s about spending time with family and friends. Steps should be a part of your life not your whole life. If you have that much time I’d suggest volunteer work.

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