These eight tips will get increase your step count up with minimal time spent outside – for when you want to move more but walk less.
If you’ve asked anyone how to get fitter, move more and give yourself a lockdown mood boost, they’ve probably responded with ‘go on a walk!’. Yes, walking is great, and I’m the first to tout the benefits of leaving your desk and going for a stroll. But sometimes you don’t have time for a two-hour break to clock up 10,000 steps, other times you’re bored of walking the same concrete streets and, often, you simply don’t want to leave the house.
How do you balance a desire to stay active with an equal longing to stay cosy and warm indoors? How do you make walking, moving and staying active at home feel accessible on a day that’s laden with meetings? I’ve been experimenting over the past year to find that exact answer and, along with some expert tips, here’s how I slot getting more steps into my day.
Use the stairs
Walking inside is best done on a staircase, says PT Lavina Mehta MBE. “My recommendation is to do three flights of stairs, three times a day. Tie it into an existing habit, such as before or after a meal. Use the stairwell if you are in a flat, or repeat stepping up and down one step if you are in a bungalow. If you do feel like going outdoors, you could also find a public staircase as they have in some parks,” she says.
The research suggests that this is possibly one of the most useful ways to move. A 2019 Canadian study found that short bouts of stair climbing activity throughout the day resulted in improvement in cardiovascular and respiratory health, aerobic fitness and overall body strength.
For extra strengthening benefits, try “climbing the stairs two at a time,” says trainer and pilates teacher Hollie Grant. “This increases the depth that you essentially have to lunge up from, and can really help to encourage the glutes to do the work. Try to drive your weight through your heels, lean into the front leg, and minimise how much you push off your back foot.”
Pace, pace, pace
My housemate paces everywhere. If he’s telling me a story, texting a friend, cooking his dinner, he’ll pace around the kitchen continuously. Honestly, it puts me on edge, and many times I have told him to just stand still. But after being so fed up of sitting down, I decided to follow in his suit and force myself to walk around while doing menial tasks. If I’m cooking dinner, I now walk about the house or even just stand at the hob, micromanaging my meal by stirring continuously.
I’ve noticed that it can often be the difference between 8,500 and 10,000 steps, which is a pretty big leap. But again the big selling point is less to do with the step count itself and more to do with the fact that it means I get off of my phone, whereas if I’m sat, I’m usually looking at a screen. Walking around or stirring the pot gives me time away from scrolling and gets me on my feet while my head is distracted from work.
Rethink walking meetings
This isn’t a new suggestion: in the corporate world, ‘walking meetings’ were part of the pivot to agile working, and employees were often encouraged to take their meetings on walks so they could be productive while not being strapped to a chair. Now, walking with a colleague isn’t on the cards, but simply standing during a Zoom meeting can be. “If you don’t need to be on video, I think it’s a good idea to set up a walking ‘track’ around your home, so you can loop around the house from the front door to the kitchen to your bedroom while having a meeting,” says Lavina.
Try the Pomodoro technique
The famous Pomodoro technique is based on the idea that we can only truly focus for 25 minutes. The idea is that you set a timer and go gung-ho on your workload, then step away for five minutes. These regular breaks are ripe for movement opportunities, in what is dubbed ‘exercise snacking’. Whether you want to do glute activation or press-ups to strengthen the areas of your body that are getting sleepy from being sat a desk, or go for a more gentle stretch or meditation session is completely up to you.
“Put some music on and dance around your room,” suggests Lavina. “Dancing around counts and will give you a mood boost.”
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Do the housework
Look, it’s a boring one, but everyday chores require a fair amount of steps. The other night, I forced myself to not watch TV by doing a deep clean of the kitchen and I won’t lie, I was puffed out and my step count was better than it could have been had I chosen the collapse-on-the-sofa option. But, make the step count of your tasks more purposeful if you wish: “If you’re taking the laundry upstairs, why not separate it into a few piles so you have to do four trips instead of one?” asks Hollie.
The key thing here is to remember that the things you don’t count, really can count.
Use your screen time
I may have argued that getting off your phone is important, but sometimes we can’t resist listening to a podcast, watching Netflix or tuning into a Q&A on Instagram Live. However, your screen time can be made instantly more beneficial by moving around during it. “If you listen to a 30-minute podcast, you could potentially rack up to 3,000 steps, even just walking around your house,” says Lavina. “Research also shows that if you do something that requires brainpower, such as listening to a podcast, while exercising it also helps cognitive development. You’re giving yourself a physical and a mental workout.”
“There are some exercises that will get your step count up more, such as doing high knees, skipping or shadow boxing,” Lavina says. But if you’d rather keep your eye line in prime view, doing press-ups from the sofa, glute bridges and static lunges will be just as good.
Meriam Ahari, Strong Women’s editor, says it’s all about doing everything yourself. “Even when I’m feeling lazy or tired, I never ask my partner to get me something, such as a cup of tea, or to hand me something that is closer to him, because I know I need to get up and move more,” she says.
This is easy for me, as I work in my room with no one else to hassle. But perhaps make a deal with your friends or family to be as selfish as possible in regards to physically helping each other with drink breaks and tidying up. They might end up driving you up the wall, but at least you’ll be moving.
Fake your commute
Stylist’s business development director in commerce, Hannah Coorg, wrote of her game-changing fake commute in lockdown, in which she packs a bag and leaves the house as though walking to the office. Only, she circles back around and comes home ready to start her day. It’s genius, and it got me in the swing of doing a trip around the block in the morning before my workout, as though I was walking to the gym.
The difference is astounding – when doing a fake commute, I clock up 3,000 steps before starting work, versus about 600 if I skip the walk and head straight into my workout. But it’s mainly about clearing my mind rather than hitting a step count – walking to the station and back or even to your local coffee shop gives a sense of purpose, rather than rolling out of bed and straight onto the computer.