Tracking daily steps has become a very common practice in the last few years with the growing popularity of wearables.
Walking has been associated with many health benefits and it is considered a form of exercise with a very low barrier to entry.
That being said, the most popular daily target for steps is 10 000 per day, which many, including myself, find unattainable. But is it necessary to average this many steps to gain the health interests of walking?
In this post, we discuss the benefits of walking, the relevance of the 10 000 steps a day target, and how walking fits into your weekly activity routine.
Walking and your health
Walking has been associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Above all, walking is associated with a reduction in mortality rate!
Walking can also be used as a tool to improve quality of life. Consider these other potential benefits:
- You can use it to clear your head
- You can disconnect from technology
- You can increase daily sun exposure (think circadian rhythm and vitamin D)
- You can breathe in fresh air
- Walking in nature has been associate with a reduction in stress
- It can be used to break up the constant sedentary posture of working a desk job.
Have you ever heard of NEAT?
NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is the number of energy you use to move around all day above basic metabolic function. It’s the measure of the activity you do that is not considered exercise. This number can be very important for those looking to lose body fat. NEAT can account for hundreds of calories per day which can really help create a caloric deficit needed for weight loss. Walking is probably one of the best tools we have for this.
All of the above considered, you can make a strong argument that a daily walking practice can have a pretty positive impact on your life and your health.
What does it mean to walk 10 000 steps a day?
A quick google search will tell you that the average person will take about 10 minutes to walk 1 kilometer, and that a kilometer is between 1250 to 1500 steps. This means that 10 000 steps/day will require over 100 minutes to complete. This can be a big commitment for someone with a desk job, a busy lifestyle, and minimal foot travel requirement.
The good news is that the 10k benchmark is not founded by research, but rather a marketing target. In fact, studies have shown that there is a significant reduction in mortality rate associated with approximately 4400 steps/day, with increasing benefits every 1000 steps until around 8000 steps. This means that you don’t need to reach this arbitrary target to get the benefits of daily walking!
Also note that daily activities will vary widely from one person to the next. People with active jobs may not need to round out their days with an evening walk as they may accumulate more than enough movement on a daily basis.
Let’s not forget exercise!
It’s important to note that beyond walking, exercise is also associated with many great benefits. We should consider walking as part of a more complete exercise regimen.
The current recommendations from the federal government suggests a minimum of 2.5 hours moderate activity per week, or a comparable amount of vigorous activity. Brisk walking is considered moderate activity. Knowing this, most of us should set a minimum number of steps/day at the approximate 4500/day range. From there, the amount of additional walking should be based on your level of exercise. More walking may not be necessary if you follow a consistent training routine. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t have a regular training routine, they should try to accumulate more steps and consider walking some of those steps at a challenging brisk pace.
A quick word on resistance training
The Canadian government recommendations for exercise also mentions the need for “training that targets your muscles and bones”. This means that the optimal training program should incorporate resistance training. Even as little as 2 sessions per week will have a significant impact on someone’s physical ability. Resistance training can improve the health of our bones, muscles and joints, amongst many other things. A more able, functional and healthy body contributes to an improvement in quality of life. It can also make the difference in the autonomy we have in our later years and prevent disability. It has been shown that we lose 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade after the age of 30 and even more after the age of 60. For me, this is a no-brainer that the ideal training routine should involve resistance training.
So what does this mean for me?
The point of this discussion is to give realistic targets for people to follow and promote action. A target that is out of reach may discourage some people from taking action.
Here is a recap of the discussion above to create clear guidelines to follow, if you wish to live a healthy lifestyle:
- There’s nothing wrong with walking 10 000 steps per day but you don’t need to walk this much to be healthy.
- 4500 steps/day is probably a safe minimum, walking up to 8000 will yield more benefits.
- The more you exercise, the less important it is to reach the 8000 steps per day mark
- If you are mostly sedentary you should consider walking as much as you can within the above recommendations. You should eventually aim to walk some of those steps at a brisk pace for additional exercise benefits.
- If you are looking to lose body fat, walk a lot to increase NEAT
- Aim to meet the minimum 2.5h/week of weekly exercise
- When it comes to health, you will get the best results with a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise
- 2-3 resistance training sessions per week is a good starting point
So the good news is that you don’t need to get 10,000 steps a day, but walking in general is definitely a great way to boost your overall health. Let me know how many steps you’re trying to take each day? And If this article influenced that number then please take a moment to share with others!