"I have to get my steps in today."
"I haven't exercised, but at least I got my steps."
"How many steps are you at today?"
Chances are, you or someone you know is seemingly obsessed with step count.
To me it's like if they don't make 10,000 steps, they're being crushed by the god of walking.
In other cases, I've heard people use walking as an excuse. They might not have made it through their scheduled workout, but damn it, they made their steps, so that's good enough.
I like to go for walks and I know that other people do too. For as long as I've been alive, my mom has made it a point to walk most days of the week. My former boss is a restless man who would take any opportunity to walk to a meeting instead of sitting in a stuffy conference room. And I've had a number of clients who swear by her walking.
The point of this post is not to discuss the merits of walking. These are well established and, as we shall see, beneficial in a myriad of ways.
The purpose of this post is to help us understand if walking counts as exercise. Are we just chasing 10,000 steps a day? Do we need to do something else additionally?
Let's look at what happens when we do nothing and what happens when we move.
What happens if we just sit on our butts?
Yes, sometimes I think the people who freak out about steps are kinda crazy, but at least they're trying.
Let's talk about the people on the other end of the spectrum.
"Part of the obesity epidemic has been attributed to reduced physical activity," say researchers published in theAmerican Journal of Epidemiology. "There is evidence that reducing the amount of time spent sitting, regardless of activity, can improve the metabolic consequences of obesity."
They found that time spent sitting was associated with a higher risk of mortality in both men and women.
Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity came to similar conclusions. In 2017, researchers examined the health effects of healthy quitting smokingGlasgow postal worker. The study found that workers who took fewer steps and spent more time sitting were at higher cardiovascular risk than those who took more than 15,000 steps a day and spent more than seven hours in an upright position. In short, they found that "longer periods of time spent in a seated posture are significantly associated with a higher risk of [coronary artery disease] and larger waist circumference."
But even active people are not immune to the effects of sitting.
In2012researchers found that adults who reported more than seven hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week and watched television for more than seven hours still had a higher risk of death than those who watched television for less than one hour per day. (I'll tell you more about that later.)
These studies shed light on how sedentary behaviors can be harmful to anyone, regardless of their activity level.
Why is 10,000 the magic number of steps?
Now we know that sedentary behavior is associated with potentially dangerous effects.
But how do we go from zero activity to 10,000 steps a day?
For the answer, we have to look at the 1964 Olympics.
Ahead of the Tokyo Games, a company released a pedometer called "Man-Po-Kei," which supposedly means "10,000 steps."
"It was a business slogan," said Catrine Tudor-Locke (who will be featured more prominently later).BBC, "like 'Just Do It' for Nike, but it went down well with people."
Since then, both Japan and the UK have recommended people to walk up to 10,000 steps a day.
"In academia, we've known for a long time that the response you have to exert is very specific,"says dr Ben Kelly.
Kelly cites a study by his organization that states that "5-10 percent of the population showed no measurable improvement after following the guideline" of walking 10,000 steps a day.
dr Greg Hager, also interviewed in the same Telegraph article, said: "Many of today's fitness apps and devices had no evidence base and that a one-size-fits-all approach could be detrimental. He highlighted how some devices encourage users to walk 10,000 steps a day - calling it an arbitrary number made up in a Japanese study from the 1960s."
Reading these articles formed the rationale for writing this article.
Sure, 10,000 is an admirable number (I used to have aFitbit, so I know how challenging it can be to walk 10,000 steps a day). But is this number effective for losing weight? Or is it just a memorable marketing ploy by companies that sell wearable fitness trackers?
Pedometers offer a number of advantages
How do we even track the number of steps we take?
A pedometer is wearable technology that helps people understand how many steps they've taken. They can be standalone devices or built into things like your smartphone or smartwatch.
The use of a pedometer in addition to a 'standard behavioral intervention' has been linked to thisa studyWeight loss in young adults with a BMI between 25 and 40, these are numbers that classify a person asobese or overweight.
However, the study also found that "devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer any advantage over standard approaches to behavioral weight loss."
In other words, they found no difference between using a pedometer after interceding with someone.
Other studies have been more positive.
In2012, researchers found the potential for pedometers to be effective in the short term.
And in2007, another group of researchers found that "a technology-based program must be used continuously throughout the intervention period to significantly affect weight loss."
All of these studies pointed to future research to examine whether using wearable technology is effective for long-term weight loss.
What are the benefits of walking?
Whether or not you wear a pedometer, walking has countless benefits. Of theUS-Chirurg General:
- Walking requires no special skills, facilities, or expensive equipment.
- Walking is an easy physical activity that can be started and maintained as part of a physically active lifestyle
- "Most people can walk, and many people with disabilities can walk or use assistive devices such as wheelchairs or walkers."
- "Walking has a lower risk of injury than high-intensity activities."
- "Walking can also be a great way to help people who are inactive to become physically active, as walking can be easily adapted to one's time, needs and ability."
- “People walk for many reasons, e.g. B. to get to school, work, a store or the library, or to have fun in their free time, to socialize with friends or family, to walk their dog or to improve their health. Because walking is versatile, it offers people many opportunities to fit physical activity into their busy lives.”
Physiologically, walking that "interrupts sedentary time with short bouts of light or moderate walking lowers postprandial glucose and insulin levels in overweight/obese adults," according to the studya study from 2012. "This may improve glucose metabolism and potentially be an important public health strategy and clinical intervention to reduce cardiovascular risk."
I used to wonder if walking 10,000 steps a day is beneficial or if it's just a marketing gimmick.
A study also emerged from my skepticism. The researchers developed a 15-week program in which people accumulated 10,000 steps a day to see if it showed any benefits. The study's findings suggest that this "improves cardiovascular performance and personal growth, and also positively impacts many variables that are indicators of health, fitness and mental well-being."
From this point of view, I will buy it. The program suggests that walking actually has health benefits.
But I still wasn't convinced if walking is a workout in itself or if walking 10,000 steps a day is enough for most people.
So I turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination, each week."
What is moderate to vigorous physical activity?
As you'll soon see, the term "moderate to vigorous physical activity" keeps popping up. So much so that the term got its own acronym: MVPA.
To understand the concept of MVPA, we must first understand another acronym: the MET.
Training experts use a metabolic equivalent (MET) to measure activity. If you sit still, that's a MET.
Harvardsays the average adult burns one calorie per hour for every 2.2 pounds of body weight - "Someone who weighs 160 pounds would burn about 70 calories per hour while sitting or sleeping."
Moderate activities are those measured between 3-6 METs.
TheCDCprovides some examples of activities in this area, such as B. Walking 5 to 4.5 miles per hour, using crutches, hiking, or roller skating. People who train at this pace, noisyAmerican Heart Association, can generally hold a conversation.
Activities with more than 6 METs are considered energetic, and that would be activities like mountain climbing, water jogging, martial arts, boxing, and even constipation. People who train at this intensity may find it difficult to maintain a conversation or say more than a few words.
The problem with METs is that they are difficult to measure. Therefore, personal trainers use amore useful intensity indicator, the rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
"Perceived exertion is how hard you feel your body is working," he saysCDC. “It is based on the bodily sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating and muscle fatigue. While this is a subjective measure, a person's stress rating can provide a fairly good estimate of actual heart rate during physical activity."
The beauty of the RPE rating, according to the CDC, is that there is a "high correlation between a person's exercise rating" multiplied by 10 and the person's actual heart rate, "so a person's exercise rating can provide a pretty good estimate of their actual heart rate." during the activity.”
The RPE scale is based on a rating of 6-20. Moderate activity would likely be in the 11-14 range, while intense activity would be more in the 17-20 range.
Does walking count as moderate to vigorous physical activity?
Part of my skepticism about walking 10,000 steps a day has been whether it meets the threshold for moderate to vigorous activity.
As a weightlifter, CrossFitter, and yoga instructor reading this article, I felt that I would find that walking 10,000 steps a day is not enough to achieve similar benefits to, say, joining a group fitness class or lifting alone.
One of the core researchers I found wasDr. Catrine Tudor-Locke, the literal walking authority I previously cited regarding the origins of the number 10,000 for step recommendations.
dr Locke (who I really hope is actually called Doc Locke) specializes in walking, personal monitoring, and step counting, among other things.
What I found most interesting about Dr. Locke found is that walking 10,000 steps a day appears to be a valid training strategy, but there are somequalifications.
First, she brings up the aforementioned public health guidelines, which in other words recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. dr Locke equates this set to 3,000-4,000 steps, but they are classified as moderate activity only if the steps are:
- at a speed of at least 100 steps/minute,
- Accumulated in at least 10-minute battles
- "Beyond a certain minimum level of physical activity below which individuals could be classified as sedentary."
She mentions inlater researchthat “brisk walking should be emphasized with the promotion of a step-based recommendation, consistent with the public health guidelines' focus on time in MVPA. The added benefits of even higher intensity activities and activities that are not necessarily solely focused on bipedal locomotion should also be recognised.”
dr Locke's key message, I believe, comes in this report: “Steps should be takenover and overthose taken as part of usual and occasional daily activities, and should also be taken during bouts lasting at least 10 minutes.” [emphasis mine]
In other words, it seems like those walking phases should be accumulated through concentrated effort and not just because you had a lot of errands to run that day.
Who shouldn't walk 10,000 steps a day?
As we've seen, accumulating 10,000 steps in a day is valuable.
But that's just not feasible for everyone.
Walking 10,000 steps a day for older adults and those with chronic illnesses may not be sustainable.dr Locke locks up. Additionally, she says the number is "a problem that's too low for children" to fight obesity.
Especially childhood obesity is more common than ever.
"Despite previous reports that childhood and adolescent obesity has remained stable or decreased in recent years, we have not found evidence of a decrease in obesity prevalence at any age," researchers wrote in a journal published in theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics. "In contrast, since the 2013-2014 cycle, we report a significant increase in severe obesity in children aged 2 to 5 years, a trend that has continued upward for many subgroups."
Can you lose weight just by walking?
Theoretically you canLose weight and still be inactive. That's because you could lower the amount of calories you eat.
A pound of body weight has approximately 3,500 calories. By eliminating 500 calories a day from your diet, you could lose 1 pound a week (7 days x 500 calories = 3,500).
In bodyFitbit has sued for claiming that people who walk 10,000 steps a day can burn 3,500 calories just by walking. The body composition analysis company argues that how many calories you burn while walking depends on three things:
- How much do you weigh,
- how fast you go and
- how far you go
You give an example:
"For a 160-pound person, a leisurely 30-minute walk at 2 miles per hour yields a 102 calorie burn, but if you walk at a brisk pace (3.5 miles per hour), the calorie burn increases by 54 percent 157 calories.”
Even if weight loss isn't your goal, low-intensity exercise has a variety of benefits to combat sedentary behavior.
"If a person is able and willing to get up and move about once an hour, five minutes of 2-MET exercise is enough to trigger quite dramatic swings in HDL, triglycerides, and blood glucose," researchers write for theAmerican Council on Exercise. "If getting up every two hours becomes more manageable, then the duration of the seizures increases to 10 minutes, even though the MET value remains the same."
2-MET movements include standing, folding laundry, making phone calls, washing dishes, and eating.
One note that the researchers and I found striking is that they found that "a sustained exercise program may not be sufficient to improve cardiometabolic health if the person is otherwise sedentary."
In other words, if you sit at a desk all day and then exercise for an hour afterwards, you may need to do more to improve your health. This echoes the findings I cited earlier in this post - even if you exercise an hour a day but are otherwise sedentary, you could still be at risk for health.
What is the bottom line?
My goal was to find out if walking 10,000 steps a day is actually a valid workout.
From all this information, it appears that this is the case. However, remember that as mentioned before, your steps need to be focused for a specific duration and intensity in order to lose weight, and they should probably be an adjunct to your exercise routine.
Many people - and in my experience most people - enjoy walking.
But it might not be for you.Nerd-Fitnesssums up the training tip perfectly: “Do what you love. And don't do anything you don't like."
Photo ofArek AdeoyeAnUnsplash