How Much Exercise Do I Need To Do To Be Healthy?

August 8, 2015

Everybody needs to exercise. Your body was “designed” to move and be active and being overtly sedentary is undeniably bad for your health. Not so many generations ago, day-to-day life was physically demanding enough to keep you healthy. However, modern life, advanced technologies, passive entertainment and labor-saving devices now mean that many of us have to seek out physical activity to stay fit and health and that means exercise.

But how much exercise do you need to do to be healthy? Opinions vary…

Recommendations span the spectrum of doing an hour of vigorous exercise a day to doing twenty minutes two or three times a week and some exercise methods, the Tabata interval training protocol being the most noteworthy example, only actually involve four-minutes of work per exercise session.

The American College of Sports Medicine, the nearest thing the fitness industry has to an overseeing, regulatory body, recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week which equates to 30 minutes five days a week. However, a previous ACSM stance called for 20 minutes, three-times a week so even they have changed their mind!

The bottom line is that exercise is important and you should aim to be physically active on most days of the week but then, what about the 10,000 of steps of walking that is so often suggested? Where did that come from?!

10,000 steps to health and fitness

According to my research, the idea behind the 10,000 steps comes from Japan and, in particular, researchers led by Dr. Yoshiro Hatano. He estimated that the average person at the time of his studies (the 1960s) walked around 5,000 steps per day and concluded that doubling this number to 10,000 would have a very positive impact on health and fitness.

Subsequent research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that Dr. Hatano was right on the money and that walking 10,000 steps (or approximately five miles) can significantly reduce your risk of developing:

  • Heart disease and strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Diabetes
  • Some cancers
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Depression

Interestingly, the Japanese word for pedometer, the device many people use to count how many steps they have taken is “manpo-kei”, a literal translation of which is “10,000 step counter”. Happy coincidence or clever marketing ploy? I’ll leave you to ponder that for yourselves!

Regardless of how the 10,000 step recommendation came about, it’s clear that walking is powerfully effective medicine and an excellent antidote for an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Walking is easy to do, requires no fancy equipment, is sociable and can be done virtually anywhere which makes it the ultimate in excuse-free exercise.

Clocking up the steps

As many of us have no need to walk very far, getting 10,000 steps per day might seem like a tall order BUT with a little creatively you should be able to start accumulating plenty of steps over the course of a day. Remember, they don’t have to be done in a single session (although you can if you like). Instead, your steps can be cumulative. Here are some ways to make clocking up your 10,000 steps more manageable…

  • Walk instead of drive any journey shorter than a mile
  • Get off the bus a few stops before your destination and walk the rest
  • Enjoy a walk at lunchtime instead of sitting at your desk
  • Take the stairs and not the elevator or escalator
  • Park your car on the far side of the parking lot and walk the rest of the way
  • Have walking meetings instead of boardroom meetings
  • Get up and pace for phone calls
  • Walk your dog or your kids
  • Take a walk after dinner and watch a little less TV
  • Walk to see friends or colleagues instead of phoning or emailing them

Caution: Start slowly

10,000 steps is a great target to aim for but if you are currently an infrequent walker, temper your new-found enthusiasm and resist the urge to do too much too soon as you could end up sore, tired and even injured.

Instead, start out with something like 2000 steps per day and, over the course of several weeks, add 500 steps per day until you are hitting the magic 10,000. And remember, other physical activity such as gardening, hitting the gym or doing heavy household chores can be equally beneficial even if they don’t contribute your 10,000 step day. 10,000 steps is a good guideline but don’t feel you HAVE to hit this figure if you are active in other ways too.

Remember, you were meant to move and not spend your days moldering in a chair. Sitting down all day is one of the biggest health threats mankind currently faces and walking is the ideal antidote. If you want to avoid the diseases commonly associated with a sedentary, seated, lifestyle, get up off your butt and walk! 10,000 steps is the perfect prescription for improved health, fitness and longevity.

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