Sunrise Health - September 21, 2020

Whether you're an avid walker or looking to start setting daily physical activity goals, you may have seen recommendations for "10,000 steps a day." Why 10,000 steps? And will that many steps really lead to better health? Some people might think 10,000 steps is just a marketing gimmick or an outdated guideline from a long time ago. Let's take a closer look.

Here's what we know for sure: Physical activity increases levels of functional health, improves cognitive performance and lowers the risk of falling, in addition to metabolic and cardiovascular health benefits. And guess what? The American Heart Association (AHA) does recommend 10,000 steps a day, or roughly 30 minutes of moderate–to–vigorous physical activity (MPVA).

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) gives similar recommendations. But both of these sources cover more than simply steps or aerobic activity, and their recommendations can vary by age group. Some highlights are outlined below.

Physical activity recommendations for adults

  • Aim for at least 150 minutes⁄week of moderate–intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes⁄week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a mixture of both, and gradually increase the intensity over time.
  • Include moderate– to high–intensity muscle–strengthening activity, like resistance or weight training, at least two days per week.
  • Add at least 300 minutes (5 hours⁄week) of activity for additional benefits.
  • Stand–up more and sit–down less. A light–intensity activity can counteract potential sedentary risks.
  • If possible, older adults should follow adult guidelines and include multicomponent physical activity in their weekly routine (balance training, aerobics and muscle–strengthening).

Track walking with a pedometer or fitness tracker

If you do want to monitor activity with steps and set a goal, here are some suggestions from the HHS.

  1. Determine your daily steps and use a pedometer or fitness tracker to count daily steps. Let's say your average amount of steps is 5,000 steps⁄day.
  2. Use your pedometer or fitness tracker to measure the steps taken in a 10–minute walk. If those steps were 1,000 steps, and your goal is 20 minutes of walking, your goal would equal 2,000 steps (1,000 steps multiplied by two).
  3. Add your daily steps (5,000) to your 20–minutes of walking steps (2,000) and calculate your daily step total (5,000+2,000=7,000).
  4. Each week, gradually increase the number of total steps every day until you reach your step goal.

Will all those steps lead to weight loss?

It's important to understand that activity and exercise for your overall health may not be the same as exercise within a specific plan for losing weight. Typically, you can expect to lose weight slowly over time if you are creating a deficit on your recommended daily intake of calories through a combination of eating choices and exercise.

If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, here's a four–step plan recommended by the AHA:

  1. Understand your Body Mass Index (BMI), and set realistic goals for yourself. Start with a short–term goal and extend to a long–term goal.
  2. Create a food journal or use a tracking app to better understand your food intake and create healthier eating habits.
  3. Understand the difference between servings and portions. Smaller portions can maintain a reasonable intake, and healthy substitutions can create a healthier lifestyle.
  4. Try to reach at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

When in doubt, sit less and move more

The benchmark of 10,000 steps makes for an easy–to–remember number to set your fitness tracker by. But it all comes down to understanding the recommendations and finding the right balance of physical activity that is right for you. For most people, the guiding principle for overall wellness is to stay mindful about the consistency of your activity levels, using overall time spent per week, and to seek out a variety of activities that you enjoy. And in the absence of a regular formal exercise period, make sure you're regularly moving and not sedentary for long stretches of time. Extensive sitting and inactivity are linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, lung cancer and an increased mortality rate.

In summary, whether you're making 10,000 steps or 200, any movement is better than no movement! Shakeup your workout routine with these fun activities recommended by the AHA, or simply start walking and gradually increase the intensity as desired.