You might be surprised to understand that the 10,000 steps per day goal was not initially borne out of science but a marketing campaign in the 1960s! However, since then and certainly in the last 10 years much has been made of the need to walk 10,000 steps per day for our health and wellbeing.
Science has of course shown us that increasing our exercise does improve our health in lots of ways like heart health, blood sugar balance, bone and muscle strength, mood and sleep, weight management, avoiding injury (due to improved balance and strength) but should our target be 10,000 steps per day?
Well yes and no! If you currently have a daily step count of less than 2000 then 10,000 steps may seem a long way off and actually the disappointment you may feel at not hitting your target regularly can be damaging to your self-esteem and self- worth. Research has shown that those with a very low step count do get benefit from increasing to 5000+ per day, those already taking 5000 can improve their health by taking 8000 steps per day and if you already regularly hit 8000-10,000 steps then 12,000 will give you even more benefit.
But is that enough? Not if you want to see the full benefit of using and moving your body. The three components of exercise should be considered. Cardiovascular, strength and mobility aspects should be brought into your day.
When you walk try and include walking at a moderate pace for at least 30 minutes (or 3 x 10 minutes) per day. That is walking as if you’ve got to get somewhere! Increasing your cadence (steps per minute) and increasing your heart rate has additional benefits for your health plus it can seem an easier goal to accrue 3 x 10 minutes of moderate exercise per day
Including lifting weights or body weight exercise such as push ups, squats or yoga and calisthenics improves your body tone and composition (more muscle less fat) which makes your body more efficient. Having a stronger leaner body tends to improve posture which protects the spinal column and nervous system.
Maintaining or increasing our mobility makes it easier to do daily tasks like exercise, gardening, household chores, looking after children without strain or injury. Moving our body through lots of different patterns of movement lights up our brains and helps us integrate information about our body and the world around us. Many of us have jobs or roles that only require a very limited or repetitive range of movements.
The bad news about sitting
Sitting is the new smoking! Yes its that’s bad for us to sit for 6 or 7 hours per day (or more). Movement literally lights up our brain! And learning complex or new movement patterns is important for the continued good organisation of sensory information from our body and environment. Sitting is literally the opposite of this causing stress and degradation in our nervous system and body.
Research has shown that even in those who exercise an hour a day if you sit for 6 or more hours a day your risk of death is significantly higher than those who exercise and do not sit all day. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/172/4/419/85345?login=true
So we should be getting 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity (slightly out of breath) exercise most days. We should also be watching our incidental exercise and movement and for that watching your step count can be a really helpful tool.
Building consistency over time is the key with any healthy habit. Having health as
my goal, certainly motivates me to take the small actions every day that I know give me health and therefore the freedom to be and do what I choose to do.
To me, good health and fitness is FREEDOM and for me there is nothing more motivating than that!