What’s behind the fitness mantra of 10,000 steps a day?
You may have read about the exercise benchmark from experts who recommend walking 10,000 steps, or roughly five miles a day, as the optimal amount of exercise. In fact, that target is programmed into many fitness trackers.
This amounts to about 500 calories per day burned in exercise, or 3500 calories per week. Doing this level of exercise may result in about one pound of weight loss per week or about 50 pounds per year! Mileage may vary, of course, based on individual differences and not changing your diet once you’re walking more.
Achieving results like this requires discipline. But it’s well within reach for anyone who wants to feel their best, physically and mentally. As a bonus, this level of exercise is also a key strategy to avoid chronic diseases that have become all too common in the U.S. And you’ll even get more vitamin D if you walk outside.
The Research. The most comprehensive study of successful long-term weight loss—done by the National Weight Control Registry—found the majority of its more than 4,000 members averaged about 60 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, every day. Walking at this pace generally produces a noticeable increase in your breathing rate and makes it uncomfortable to carry on a conversation.
Study participants in the Registry lost an average of 72 pounds and had kept the weight off five years later. The key is to establish a daily routine, and maintain it even after the weight loss goal is achieved.
Some Tips. Interested? Here are some beginner’s tips. Walk on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Briskly stroll through your nearest mall, park or neighborhood. Our Nation’s dogs are getting fatter, so bring along Fido! Wear walking shoes with good support, and change shoes once or twice a year to avoid injuries.
Walking at a brisk pace for 30 to 60 minutes equals 4,000 steps, or about two miles for the average person. For the rest of the day, keep track of your step count using a Fitbit, pedometer or phone app. An additional 6,000 steps spread through the day gets you to your goal of 10,000 steps.
Look for opportunities for more walking by parking far away from your destination when shopping or driving to work. Don’t take a direct path to where you’re going. Always opt for the stairs, never the elevator.
Don’t Sit. As important as it is to walk, it’s also essential for good health not sit for long periods. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that even among those who exercise 60 minutes a day, those who watch seven hours or more of television had a higher death rate than those who watch an hour or less.
We think this is because lack of activity results in more insulin resistance, making the body’s natural insulin less effective and causing blood sugar to rise. High blood sugar fuels plaque formation in arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Elevated blood sugar also stimulates cancer cells to develop and proliferate, which is why diabetes is a well-recognized risk factor for cancer.
So, the answer to longer life is both formal exercise and an active lifestyle. Find an activity you enjoy that makes you breathe hard for 30 to 60 minutes each day. Walking is the most convenient, but there are plenty of good options—biking, dancing, swimming—or using a treadmill or elliptical machine when it’s too cold, too hot or rainy.
When at work or relaxing at home, get up and walk around at least once an hour. Pace while talking on the phone. Walk at lunch. Schedule walking meetings. Routine chores like opening the mail, cleaning up dinner dishes, or taking out the trash are opportunities to move.
Remember, you have muscles for a reason—use them as much as possible, to achieve the vitality and robust health you were born to enjoy!
Jay Cooperman, M.D., is board certified in internal medicine and has practiced in Paoli since 1989. He cares for his patients, when hospitalized, in Paoli Hospital. His passion for wellness and prevention led to an affiliation with the MDVIP network of primary care physicians in 2012. Learn more at MDVIP.com/JayCoopermanMD.