You see people with them all the time – colourful bands on the wrist, or strapped to the waist – pedometers, fitness and heart rate monitors. A quick check to these devices will often cause a person to jump up, trying to get in a few extra movements to make that goal of 10,000 steps. But do these fitness challenges actually work?
Taking 10,000 steps in a day isn’t actually a magic or even scientifically derived number. It’s used largely because it sounds impressive, harkening back to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory about how to become awesome at anything, and because the very first pedometers, invented in Japan, had a name that translated to “10,000 steps meter.”
The average North American, with our cars and desk jobs, walks only about 5,000 steps a day. The US Centers for Disease Control recommend that adults spend 150 minutes a week doing moderate activity, which includes brisk walks, and that works out to be around 7,000 or 8,000 steps a day. Once you’ve hit 8,000 why stop there?
Proven Health Benefits
Getting up and getting moving, even in small amounts, has a measurable impact on your health. Studies have found that women who started walking 10,000 steps a day lowered their blood pressure and blood sugar levels after a few months. A large European study showed that people who went from no exercise to walking for 20 minutes a day reduced their mortality risk by up to 30%. With so many reports about how sitting still is slowly but surely killing us it’s nice to have a reminder that the opposite is true as well – being active can save your life.
It’s not just misery that loves company. Social support has been proven to be a key factor in fitness and weight loss programs being successful. Also a little healthy competition adds spice to any challenge. Ideally it’s best to walk with a friend, but sometimes an email reminder to do your daily sit-ups or a fitness tracker’s beeps can be the next best thing. It’s easy to make excuses, but accountability to someone, or something, else can keep you going.
Breaking up a fitness goal into small manageable bits – even down to one step a time – makes it more achievable. Most personal trainers will tell you that small personal milestones are what keep you motivated for the long haul. As well, tracking your progress (or sometimes lack of) can help you figure out what’s working for you and how to make activity a daily habit.
So grab that fitness tracker, sign up for that online abs challenge, or agree to walk with a coworker at lunch. It’s clear that when it comes to improving overall health through physical activity every step counts.