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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at www.employeerecommended.com.

When we hear that the recommended minimum standard of physical activity for adults aged 18 to 64 is 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate to intense exercise each week, most of us think of physical activities such as working out at the gym, going jogging or some other structured sport or activity.

But it doesn't need to be that way. One proven alternative to boost your activity level is to pay attention to the number of steps you take each day, the length of time you are active or moving, and the degree of intensity of activity – such as a brisk walk, which would be moderate, or a jog, being high intensity.

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The focus of the micro skill of tracking your daily steps is to increase your overall physical activity and reduce the amount of time you spend sedentary – sitting on your tush either at work or at home. The new thought is that sitting is the new smoking. That's because long periods of sitting increase health risks such as high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; excessive fat around your midsection; cardiovascular disease; cancer; and premature death.

A note of caution though: Before you make changes to your daily physical activity it is advisable to get guidance from your doctor on your readiness and starting point if you are unsure about your current fitness level.

Steps:

1. Get your baseline score.

For the next five days, track your daily steps, total minutes of activity and level of intensity (such as low, moderate, or high). Use can also use a Fitbit or smart phone to record your progress. If an app is not built into your device, you can download a pedometer app.

2. Create a daily steps log.

This log will need to track the following three factors:

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· total daily steps taken

· total minutes of activity and level of intensity (low-moderate-high)

· total awake time spent sedentary, such as sitting or lying down

3. Take a five-day average.

Calculate the average number of daily steps you took, total minutes of activity and intensity, and determine the baseline zone you are starting from:

Green Zone: More than 7,000 steps; 150-300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderately intense activity or 75-150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of high intense activity.

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Orange Zone: 3,000 to 7,000 steps; 75-150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of moderately intense activity

Red Zone: Fewer than 3,000 steps; less than 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of low to moderate activity

Motivation and commitment

Adding micro skills, which are really new positive habits, to your daily routine requires commitment and follow-through. For a skill to become an ingrained habit, it requires motivation. If you can't answer, "How will adopting this new micro skill help me over the next 12 months?" there's little chance you will stick with it and be successful. The value and future benefits of this new skills needs to be important and clear to you – such as increased fitness, reaching weight loss goals, decreasing your risks for disease.

To transform a micro skill into a habit requires daily focus and tracking of progress. This can help hold you accountable, show progress, give you reasons to celebrate, and curb you risk of relapse.

For this micro skill it is necessary to start with realistic daily goals. For example, if your baseline shows you are taking less than 5,000 steps a day, then challenge yourself to improve your daily steps by 500 steps each week, that's only 100 extra steps each weekday. Small, steady progression is an easy way to lock in a new daily habit.

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The average person who takes 2,000 steps walks about 1.6 kilometres; 10,000 steps equals about 8 km. Over 300 research studies note the benefits of taking 10,000 steps a day.

This recommended minimal target is to stay in the green zone five days of the week.

Maintenance and relapse prevention

Life happens and it's normal to get distracted and lose focus because of some other pressing priority. It's also normal to slip back to old habits. Don't beat yourself up about it though. Realize that this is likely to happen from time to time, and it means you need to have some daily discipline to help curb the risk of falling back into your old lethargic patterns.

By tracking your daily movement, it can provide you with a positive feedback loop that can inspire you to keep going. This practice trains the brain on the benefits of the new action and shapes a habit that will become ingrained.

If you slip up, don't judge yourself as having failed overall. Realize that you've slipped from your goal and use it as an opportunity to learn and to improve.

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By accepting that you may not be perfect every day, it will help you refocus on your goals and the benefits increased activity will have on you. That can help boost your motivation so you restart your commitment to reaching your daily steps target.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link: tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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