I Tried Walking 10,000 Steps a Day in a City Where Everyone Drives
Much like the traffic and spectacular array of dietary restrictions among its citizens, the fact that no one walks in Los Angeles was one of the oft-mentioned maxims that preceded my moving here two years ago. I didn't realize how true it was until my first full day in Byrdie's L.A. headquarters. In celebration of my arrival, our team went out for lunch. We piled into a series of Ubers… only to hop out at our destination two blocks down the road, like a scene out of a modern remake of L.A. Story. Fresh off the plane from a car-free five years in New York City, I was scandalized.
When I moved here, my ability to withstand any temperature less than 60 degrees was the first thing to go. My propensity to walk anywhere quickly followed. Now, I can barely be bothered to walk around the corner from my office to grab lunch. (My Postmates habit is pathetic.) I live in the very walkable neighborhood of Silverlake—aka West Brooklyn—and yet I typically don't stray from the five-block radius surrounding my apartment without hopping in my car.
The irony is that I had always assumed getting a car would be liberating. I could take spontaneous road trips. I wouldn't have to take a ferry to get to IKEA, and never again would I have to lug three heavy bags of groceries from Trader Joe's to the subway to my apartment. But in truth, there was a different kind of freedom that came with walking, not the least of which was never having to find parking.
That's not even to mention that just by living my life in New York—commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan, meeting up with friends, and running any and all errands—I was actually in really good shape with relatively minimal effort. One of the caveats of moving that I hadn't anticipated was having to be far more conscious about my fitness routine since I'd be more inclined to sit all day. So with this all in mind, I decided to throw down a little challenge for myself. Most experts recommend hitting 10,000 steps a day—could I possibly meet that minimum for seven days straight in the city where no one walks?
To prepare, I put the call out to Instagram for some pointers on hitting my goal. Two commenters advised choosing far-away parking spots on purpose—an easy ask since street parking is already my recurring nightmare. Some of the quirkier ideas included walking around while brushing my teeth and going to the bathroom on a different floor at the office. One person suggested taking "walking breaks" at work, and I joked to a colleague that maybe I'd just start leaving for hours at a time to take my leisurely strolls—because "it's for a story!" (For the record, I didn't actually do this because I like being employed.)
So with a few new tips to keep in mind and my Apple Watch fired up and ready to track my every mood, I woke up one recent Monday morning with the number 10,000 emblazoned across my mind's eye. But weirdly enough, that goal would take an interesting turn by the end of the week.
Keep reading to get the play-by-play.
I decide from the get-go that this day will serve as a sort of baseline: In other words, I want to see how close I can get to 10,000 steps on a day when I’m not working out and am otherwise doing the bare minimum. Naturally, I take my own permission to be lazy very seriously and spend the first two hours of my day answering emails from bed, only moved by my unrelenting need for coffee.
Once I arrive at the office, I set up camp at my standing desk for a couple hours before a co-worker invites me to make a coffee run at Alfred—a 10-minute walk away. As soon as I return, I remember we also have a team lunch to welcome a new editor (hi, Erin!)—we’ll be walking there, too. This is shaping up to be a highly uncharacteristic day in L.A., but I can’t complain. It’s just after noon, and I’ve already racked up more than 5000 steps.
Before heading over to a movie night at a friend’s house, I make a grocery store run to pick up booze and snacks. A few laps around the market ticks my number up even higher, and when I get into bed a few hours later, I’m pleasantly surprised by how close I managed to get to 10,000 while just living my life.
TOTAL STEPS: 8715
I wake up nursing a slight wine hangover, but I’m also ready to hit that minimum goal at all costs. I decide to forego my little French press this morning in favor of venturing out for my caffeine fix, and I quickly realize how nice it is to get some fresh morning air and stroll around my sleepy neighborhood—it’s barely 8 a.m., and I’m suspiciously cheerful.
But I also know that this alone won’t be enough, so I bring my workout clothes with me to work and vow to head straight to my favorite hiking trail after I’m done for the day. After a busy morning on set offsite, I try to park as far away as possible from the elevators in our office's parking structure. I log a few very productive hours before needing a little breather, and I tell myself that if I walk to a nearby coffee shop, I can splurge on an afternoon snack. (I'm quickly learning that bribing myself with food might be the most effective strategy.)
By the time I wrap things up at the office, I’m excited to unwind. I sweat it out for 90 minutes on the trail and collapse into bed with dinner and Netflix shortly after. Mission accomplished.
TOTAL STEPS: 10,442
After a glorious night’s sleep, I’m in full-on productivity mode from 7 a.m. until I finish up my day at 4 p.m. (I'm a morning person, so I work on New York time). At this point, I’m borderline exhausted from being so “on" without so much as a lunch break, but I desperately need to move, so I hit the hiking trails again for one of my shorter loops. It only puts me at 6000 steps, but by the time I get home, I’ve fully resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to come up short today. “Not so fast,” says the universe: At the exact moment I open up my fridge for dinner, my friend texts me to ask if I want to walk to go get some ice cream. The promise of dessert is more than enough motivation to get me back out the door (because—plot twist—I am actually a toddler), and I end up surpassing my goal with a vegan cookie butter cone in hand.
TOTAL STEPS: 10,874
Another early morning walk—is this going to be my new thing? I log a little more than a mile around my hilly neighborhood before getting dressed and heading into the office. It’s just as well since just like yesterday, I barely get up from my desk for seven hours (Postmates, you enabler). After leaving for the day, I unwind with some vintage shopping (my kryptonite), and rather than chauffeuring myself between stores, I end up walking quite a bit. Then, it’s off to meet some friends for dinner—I end up walking there, too. All this time spent outside my car is making me quite nostalgic for my New York days, and I have the step count to match—all without so much as lacing up my sneakers.
TOTAL STEPS: 10,560
It's one of our last summer Fridays, so I take advantage of the afternoon off and head out for a hike (can you tell it's my favorite summer workout?). There's barely anyone at the park this time of day, and the quiet is so nice after a busy week. It's also starting to cool off (it's been so hot in L.A. lately), so I linger, soak up the gorgeous views, and take the (very) long way back down. It's the first day all week that I'm not obsessively checking my step count—and it feels so good just to push that out of my mind for awhile. I'm admittedly very ready for this challenge to be over. (T-minus two days!)
TOTAL STEPS: 11,724
After passing out pretty early last night (three cheers for canceled plans), I spring out of bed just after 7 a.m. I am an odd creature who loves getting up early, especially on the weekends. I love strolling around my neighborhood when everyone else is asleep. I hit the farmers market just as it opens, stock up on some fresh produce, and walk to my favorite coffee shop—it's a little out of the way, but I'm willing to go the distance for its cold brew (and fine, for the extra steps).
It is painfully hot today—triple digits—and my sad ceiling fan is doing little to make my apartment feel less like a sauna. I text my friend to inform her that I'm walking to her place and will be spending the afternoon sitting on her floor by the air conditioning unit. I don't feel bad about it. By the time the sun goes down, it cools down just enough that I can rally to go dancing. After a few hours, the bar is miraculously even hotter than it is outside—there's even a nice breeze now, so I opt to walk home rather than calling a Lyft. In addition to saving me $5, it's actually a really pleasant way to wind down.
TOTAL STEPS: 10,148
I have plans to go hiking today—shocking, I know. This time, however, I'll be getting out of the city with a friend to hit one of our favorite trails in Topanga Canyon, just east of Malibu. It's gorgeous and a tough climb, especially in this heat—which calls for a much-deserved brunch afterward. By the time the day draws to a close, I realize that I'm just under my step goal, and then I realize that I don't care.
TOTAL STEPS: 9502
Is the number helpful? Sure—and I can't pretend it didn't inspire me to get moving more regularly, spend time outside, and stop making convenience my number one priority. But that's also kind of the point—it was so easy to get hung up on the number, but in hindsight, this week was really a lesson in taking myself off autopilot and living more intentionally.
Committing to this challenge required a significant paradigm shift: Rather than thinking about how quickly and effortlessly I could reach my destination at any given moment, I had to focus on the how and why of getting there. I don't think it's a coincidence that once that notion clicked, I wasn't so interested in the hard number on the goal line. I also don't think it's a coincidence that once I allotted myself the space to really be mindful, that goal was simply a happy byproduct.