Walking…we all do it. And it has many benefits beyond what you might expect. Many of our clients and friends track their steps as a way to increase their movement or as part of a walking challenge.
So what else can we offer you? How hard can it be to walk?
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the opposite of walking, sitting. Sitting is the real reason for the conversation about walking. I could begin to cite the research about how sitting is killing us, as if our chairs have become monsters. One especially unfavorite headline for me is the one that reads “smoking is the new sitting.”
Fortunately, we know about the negativity bias and know that bad news sells. We know fear is sticky and those catchy headlines get our reptilian brain riled up to pay attention. What is more interesting is what is behind the message.
We have had desk jobs for many years and these were not the headlines. We also had fax machines and filing cabinets and copy machines. These required getting up from our desks. Technology and being uber-connected had made these three office staples less necessary.
We are sitting for very long periods of time, and that is the problem. The human body is not meant to stay in any one position for extended periods. When our mobility and movement is limited the body gets the message that we don’t need all those extra bells and whistles, like bone density and heavy muscles.
Research done with the astronauts, and our own observations of how they stumbled when they returned from outer space revealed some interesting clues as to what happens when we sit for extended periods of time. Joan Vernikos, one of my favorite researchers and the former Director of Life Sciences for NASA, discovered that what happened in the zero gravity environment of space over a few weeks to the astronauts was what happens to us as we get more sedentary over a 20-30 year period.
The human body is meant to move. A lot. But exactly how much? It depends.
Often you will hear the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day. So where did this recommendation come from? Similar to the catchy headline of murderous chairs, 10,000 steps was the product of an auspicious marketing strategy. According to Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke, a walking behavior researcher, the story originates at the 1964 Tokoyo Olympics with a local company created a pedometer.
As they searched for a name for this new device, man-po-kei was selected. in Japanese, “man” stands for “10,000,” “po” stands for “steps” and “kei” stands for “meter” or “guage.” To top it off, 10,000 is a very auspicious number in Japanese culture so they went with it and it resonated with people. The story goes that they went man-po-kei-ing all over the place. (It feels like there is a pokemon pun in there somewhere!)
Like many other beliefs around health, these inadvertent guidelines slip in and stay. The bigger question is what does 10,000 steps represent today. Back to our question of how many steps. Lets explore the context and do some comparisons.
How many steps per day for you?
First, every person has a different gait, or length of step, yet some general guidelines are that there an average of 100 steps/minute for a moderate pace and about 140 for a vigorous pace. For the average American, their step count per day is 4,500- 5,500 which is hovering around the sedentary level for daily movement.
Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke identified the following categories as part of her research.
<5000 steps/day = sedentary
5000-7499 steps/day= low active
7500-9999 steps/day = somewhat active
10,000-12,499 steps/day = active
12,500 steps/day = highly active
Why is this important? In any walking program, the first step is to determine your baseline. There are many wearable devices but these days there is an internal app in the apple products health app that will track your steps. For Samsung it is their S Health app.
Once you determine where you are, you can begin to set incremental goals. The general recommendation is to increase by 1,000 every two weeks.
How long will it take?
The next question is usually about how long that much walking is going to take. Again that depends, but going with a moderate pace of 100 steps/minute ,this chart can help you get a sense of the time required.
This chart below illustrates the time to walk 100-10,000 steps.
However, take a breath. You are not going to have to dedicate this much time to walking as a separate activity. Remember most people already get at least 4,000/day just in normal activities.
My recommendation is to approach it like a game, a walking game. Can you walk the long way back to the produce aisle to get the apples you forgot? That is an extra 50 steps.
Can you get off your train at 30th Street Station instead of City Hall and add another 5 minutes and 500 steps to your daily total.
Can you take a 5-minute walk around the block mid-morning and mid-afternoon to get another 1,000 steps or walk to the further restroom at your office.
Like money, all the little blocks of steps add up.
Is all that walking worth it?
Yes, 100 minutes is a lot of time. But again, you are weaving it into your day. And there are many benefits, not only physical but also the mental and emotional. In this article, The Deadliest Sin, From survival of the fittest to staying fit just to survive: scientists probe the benefits of exercise in depth and the dangers of being a human sloth is one of the best summaries I have found to date.
You can also build more benefits into your walking time. We collaborated with Coach Marco, to develop three different workouts to enhance your walking time.
I hope this gives you some new ideas and some new options. My last bit of advice is to get outside. When you’re walking outside and you’re in the woods, you have twice the benefits.
As I watched the short video on the Health app on my iPhone, the video ended with this advice.
“The less we sit now, the more active we can be later in life.”
I believe. And have fun. That is what it’s really all about, the wholebeing practice of moving your body feels good.