Some of us call it a good day if we walk to the refrigerator. Some of us call it a good day if we run a quarter marathon. We are all at different levels, and exercise ought to be a personal experience. One thing we can all agree on is that for many Americans, our lives are too sedentary.
As the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise pointed out in a landmark research project, Americans are miles behind many other countries when it comes to walking. The health community encourages us to walk 10,000 steps – about five miles – per day. In America, adults only take an average of 5,117 steps per day, which is only half of the recommended amount. Japan takes 7,168, Switzerland 9,650, and Australia 9,700. So, other countries are falling short as well, but they are doing better than we are. Also, according to another study men are actually winning this contest: men averaged 7,192 and women averaged 5,210 steps per day.
So here are 5 points you need to know to get excited about walking and make those 10,000 steps count:
1. Walking can be just as good as jogging
Walking counts. Often times we think we need to engage in the most intense workout routines conceivable or they won’t count. Depending on our goals, that may not be the case. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, when it comes to lowering blood pressure walking can be just as effective as jogging. Other simple everyday activities such as taking the stairs, or engaging in vigorous yard or house work can help maintain health and wellness. Walking can even help decrease dementia, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and depression.
2. Walking competitions
Because walking counts, many workplaces are starting walking competitions. It can be a fun way to keep each other accountable and keep the body going. Researchers at California State University decided to take it upon themselves to investigate the benefits of such a walking program. They wanted to know if a walking competition could decrease stress and increase physical activity levels particularly in female employees at the university. They had earlier noted that stress levels were rising in female employees. They followed stress levels and walking days during the competition. They found that employees walked more and their stress levels decreased. Also, they found the competitors actually engaged in more vigorous physical activities.
So, walking can decrease stress and give you that little boost to dive into a more rigorous program.
3. Try out a weighted vest on the treadmill
It may sound strange at first, but research shows it works. James McCormick, a researcher at the University of new Mexico found that wearing a weighted vest while walking on the treadmill increases the quality of exercise without increasing the perceived exertion of the exercise. So, wearing a weighted vest gives better results without any more perceived effort. It’s like magic.
He tested and tracked the effects on untrained women on treadmills, walking at various speeds and grades and with different weight levels. This could be an especially good practice for those just getting started on their path towards 10,000 steps, or those with limited speeds.
4. Remember the Longevity Project
Way back in 1921, before almost any of us were born, a great man started a great project. The man was Dr. Lewis Terman, at Stanford University. The project was called “The Longevity Project”. It would track 1,500 boys and girls over most of the next century to see which traits lead to the longest life. Terman passed away in 1956, but Dr. Howard Friedman and Dr. Leslie Martin would continue the project to its end and ultimately publish all of it’s fascinating details in a book named after the study.
Their findings were many but it found some particularly interesting ones regarding exercise and health. It found those that engaged in activities they enjoyed lived the longest. Indeed, if longevity is the goal, the researchers actually rejected the mantra of rigorous exercise as being key and instead suggested being active doing something you enjoy. – “All in all, the findings told us that it makes no sense to rely on generalizations– individuals, we found, are on their own activity paths. The edict to exercise rigorously needs to be altered and tailored person to person.”
That said, Dr. Martin did run a six-day race across 150 miles of the Moroccan desert, so it’s no problem to enjoy an extreme race every now and then. But, that may not be what has the biggest positive impact on your longevity.
It isn’t too late for sedentary adults to apply a little change that makes a big difference. Even in middle aged adults, if you can add one minor activity to your day that you enjoy, you can make a large impact of the trajectory of the remainder of your life. When trying to understand the difference between going for a daily walk and doing nothing at all, Friedman says “We’re really talking here about the difference between people who become sick and die in their 50s and 60s versus those who thrive into their 70s, 80s and 90s.”
5. Take the Every Body Walk! Pledge
People all across the country are jumping on board to get on the path to good health. As you can tell, a little bit of walking adds up to make a big difference. Every Body Walk! Is encouraging everyone to take a pledge to walk at least a total of 30 minutes a day. “Regular walking helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression as well as boosts self-esteem and improves sleep. 30 minutes a day spent walking can lead to benefits like reduced body fat, lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, increase energy, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.”
So take the pledge with Every body Walk! And make your goal of 10,000 steps, whether it’s on the treadmill, on the street, or on the trail!