This is the first of a three part series of posts about walking for fitness, and it will begin by focusing on the 10,000 step fitness phenomenon. The next two posts in the series will deal with inexpensive, but effective, devices for counting those steps that can help keep you motivated.
When I started getting in shape over four years ago, like a lot of people who have let themselves go, all I could do was walk. I had a pair of well worn New Balance shoes (pictured in my banner photo), some old school baggy sweat pants, t-shirts, a pair of cheap jersey gloves, and a hoodie sweat shirt when the weather was cool. I wore my regular winter coat when it was cold. That was it. I would usually walk at night and take the dogs with me. By the way, I have found dogs to be the most willing, and reliable, walking companions.
I just walked, without measuring anything, and without listening to headphones, and without even a cell phone. I have no idea how far I walked, how many steps it took, or how long I was out there. There was something pure, elemental, and Zen-like about the whole experience. A kind of innocence if you will. I was unencumbered. However, to begin making progress, or at least progress I could measure, I needed some kind of metric. The first one I came up with was the intriguingly simple idea that walking 10,000 steps a day should be my goal. Where did this idea come from? It certainly did not originate with me. In fact it has been around for awhile. The idea of walking 10,000 steps originated in Japan. The website http://www.livescience reports that:
The origins of the 10,000-steps recommendation aren’t exactly scientific. Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed under the name “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter,” said Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) has weighed in on this fitness practice, and provides some more background:
A value of 10000 steps/day is gaining popularity with the media and in practice and can be traced to Japanese walking clubs and a business slogan 30+ years ago. 10000 steps/day appears to be a reasonable estimate of daily activity for apparently healthy adults and studies are emerging documenting the health benefits of attaining similar levels. How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.(2004)
That was from ten years ago, and the 10,000 step goal has become a fixture in the fitness world. It has become institutionalized if you will. You can follow the link to the NIH site to read their short report that goes onto provide some rather sensible guidelines that still make sense today:
- <5000 steps/day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index.
- 5000-7499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered ‘low active.
- 7500-9999 likely includes some volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) and might be considered ‘somewhat active.
- >or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as
- >12500 steps/day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’.
How far is 10,000 steps? It varies according to the person, but the number I found most prevalent when I looked it up on the web was that it is about 5 miles for the “average” person, and for most people that is at least an hour of walking. Unfortunately, most of us fall far short of that number. The New York Times reported in 2010 that:
Americans, on average, took 5,117 steps a day, far short of the averages in western Australia (9,695 steps), Switzerland (9,650 steps) and Japan (7,168 steps). The findings were published in the October issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The Pedometer Test: Americans Take Fewer Steps, by Tark Parker-Pope
A friend of mine who was using 10,000 as a goal at the same time I became interested in it was working as a physical therapist in a hospital. It was not a sedentary job. At work she was constantly on her feet and walking the corridors of the hospital, and assuredly walking more than the average person. Yet, she told me that she needed to walk a mile or two after she got off work to meet the goal. How could that be? Our lifestyle, how we have arranged our physical space, and the way we operate within it has to be at least partially responsible. Regardless, I think there is universal agreement that in this modern world we need to be more active. Counting our steps turns out to be a reasonable metric, and a goal of 10,000 steps a reasonable goal. Walking is also accessible for most people, and for many people who could not otherwise exercise. I know it was for me. It is also for all practical purposes free. It does not require a gym, and I walked for over a year with whatever I could scrounge from my existing wardrobe. That is what running ugly is all about.
In my next two posts I will review two relatively inexpensive methods of keeping track of how far you walk, that are also reasonably reliable, and easy to use. One tethers to a smart phone and sells for around $25. The other is a pedometer that you wear like a wrist watch that does not require a cell phone, and has some other helpful features for about the same price, and it is the one I will be talking about in my next post. I purchased that pedometer for my father who is 79 years of age, and I am giving it to him tomorrow.