Question of the Week

June 16, 2009


The recommendation has been floating around for years. Take 10,000 steps a day, and a person will be getting the exercise he/she needs. With the rise in popularity of pedometers, the ability that a person has to count all of the steps that are taken throughout the routine of one's day has gotten easier, and the health benefits of walking remain well-known.

"The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says 10,000 steps a day (about five miles) can give you a healthy heart and reduce body fat. And thanks partly to pedometer promotions by McDonald's and Kellogg's, thousands more people are seeing how they measure up. Even the BHF sold out of pedometers, also known as stepometers, this year. There has never been so much interest in promoting exercise, says Len Almond, director of the BHF national centre for physical education, who thinks counting steps is the key.'If pedometers stimulate people to walk more frequently, that would be fantastic and could make a real difference to the nation's health.'"

Unlike some other forms of exercise, most don't see walking as something they need to learn, or even something they need to learn about. Before beginning any exercise program (even walking), it is important to learn what one needs to do in order to avoid injury.

"Walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise that can ease you into a higher level of fitness and health. Walking is one of your body's most natural forms of exercise. It's safe, simple, doesn't require practice, and the health benefits are many. ... Preparation helps avoid injury. Take time to prepare yourself to prevent injuries, such as blisters on your feet or muscle pain.

  • Wear walking shoes and comfortable, protective clothing
  • Warm up
  • Stretch
  • Cool down after each walking session
As you get started, remember to:
  • Start slow and easy.
  • Use proper technique.
  • Measure the intensity of your workout."

While 10,000 steps may seem like an excellent goal, the recommendation to "Start slow and easy" is not one that should be ignored.

"How many steps should you rack up? The figure you see most often is 10,000 a day. That's a nice, round number, based on Japanese research showing that it improves fitness. But like so many one-size-fits-all solutions, those 10,000 steps may not all be necessary. 'The number 10,000 has developed almost mythical proportions,' says Gregory Welk, a physical-activity researcher at Iowa State University in Ames. 'It's actually not yet clear at what point you start getting a benefit.' In fact, if all you want is to stop gaining weight, you may need only 2,000 steps more than your normal routine--provided you also pay attention to what you eat. ... The average office worker takes about 5,000 steps a day, Hill says. Trying to double that right away may be too much too fast. He calculates that taking an extra 2,000 steps while eating 100 fewer calories a day is enough to keep most people from gaining the typical kilogram a year that comes with middle-age spread. But Hill does concede that 10,000 steps may be necessary to control Type 2 diabetes or to lose weight and keep it off.",9171,588911,00.html

Gradually adding steps while gradually reducing calorie intake is one way to lose weight and improve overall health. However people go about making these gradual changes, it can be helpful to establish a baseline and track progress.

"The goal of taking 10,000 steps in a day is a rough equivalent to the Surgeon General's recommendation to accumulate 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. It should be enough to reduce your risk for disease and help you lead a longer, healthier life. But not everyone should start right out trying to get 10K a day. So instead take a comfortable, gradual approach -- the 20% Boost Program. First, invest in a pedometer. Put a safety string through the pedometer's waist clip and pin it or loop it through a belt loop, so the pedometer isn't dropped down a toilet. Now follow the simple program below [see link]. The first week, don't change your life at all; just learn your baseline average daily step total. Then, for the next two weeks try to boost that average by 20%. Be sure to follow the directions and fill in the simple log -- it's critical to helping you learn what adds steps to your day and what detracts."

Once someone has determined a baseline and is attempting to add steps, finding ways to incorporate those additional steps can require some minor modifications to one's daily routine.

"Now, how will you walk 10,000 steps a day? Try some of the following:

  • park further out in a parking lot (you may get less door dings too!)
  • walk to your child's sporting event or walk them to school ...
  • taking the stairs anytime it is an option ...
  • get up to change the channel instead of using the remote control
  • plan a walking meeting ...
  • walk at the mall on a rainy day ...
  • take a walk for part of your lunch hour
  • buy a treadmill if you can't get out of the house
  • get creative!
... Remember, the faster you walk, the more steps you will take in a shorter amount of time. If doing it alone is not for you, find a walking group."

Walking may be easier to incorporate into one's daily routine than some other forms of exercise, but not everyone enjoys walking.

"I find walking boring. How can I make it more fun?

While finding another person to walk with can make the walk more fun and interesting, finding a dog to walk with can provide an even better partner for accountability in good health.

"Dr. Robert Kushner, a human obesity expert and professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said that dogs make great workout partners in winning the battle of the bulge. 'They are natural exercise machines on a leash,' he said. Research has shown that it's easier to be physically active and stick with an exercise program when you team up with a workout buddy, Kushner said. But unlike human partners, who might make excuses for not wanting to go for a walk or run, a dog never will. ... But enthusiasm for exercise is just one of the healthy behaviors humans can learn from dogs, said Marcus, who last year wrote Fit as Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health. Dogs instinctively get enough sleep and maintain good hydration -- traits that have, for instance, been linked with weight loss in people. 'A lot of times as humans, we mistake that drive for water with a drive to get more food,' Marcus said."

Questions of the Week:
How would you, your friends, and your family members benefit from a daily walking routine? How can a pedometer help you determine how much you are currently walking and help you track your progress? How can you gradually add more steps to your day without necessarily setting aside a lot of extra time? How can you work with friends and/ or family members to help them add more steps to their days as you add more steps to yours? What can you do to make your new routine something you will want to continue for the long term?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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