In the very technological times we live in, it often seems like there’s an app for everything. This is even–or perhaps especially–true with respect to health and fitness. People are becoming more and more aware of the risks associated with an inactive lifestyle, and one of the ways in which they are trying to ensure they get enough exercise is by using step counters.
Definition and Prevalence of Sedentarism in an Urban Population
According to Bernstein, Morabia & Sloutskis, there is no widely-accepted definition of exactly what constitutes an inactive (or sedentary) lifestyle. However, what is widely accepted is that not being active enough significantly increases one’s risk of health problems such as osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, and even cancer.
In the past, sedentarism has typically been understood in terms of whether or not people engage in very vigorous activities, normal sporting or leisure activities, or gentle activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and the like. But people also expend a certain amount of energy while going about their normal daily routine, and this base level of energy expenditure is quite difficult to quantify.
Coming up with a better definition of sedentarism was the first aim of Bernstein, Morabia & Sloutskis’ study. The second aim was to identify the type, duration, and intensity of activities that people could incorporate into their daily lives without inconvenience in order to enjoy health benefits.
A number of studies now confirm that it is the total amount of energy expended in physical activity that is linked to health benefits, rather than the intensity of the exercise. That means that a reasonably small amount of walking around each day can make a big difference to your health.
How Many Steps/Day Are Enough?
A popular estimate is that you need to take +10,000 steps per day in order to enjoy these health benefits. Tudor-Locke & Bassett explain that the idea of 10,000 steps originates in Japan.
A certain pedometer entered the market in 1965, and its Japanese name translates to ‘ten thousand steps meter.’ Today, the idea that you need about 10,000 steps a day is familiar in most Japanese families.
There is already general agreement that high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. There is also agreement that doing physical activity is one of the things that most effectively lowers blood pressure. In addition, a number of recent studies support this estimate of how many steps you need to take to keep you healthy.
Walking 10,000 Steps/Day or More Reduces Blood Pressure and Sympathetic Nerve Activity
A study published in 2000 in the journal Hypertension Research was designed to examine the effects of walking 10,000 (or more) steps per day on blood pressure and heart health. The authors found that that amount of daily walking lowered blood pressure and improved heart health in high blood pressure patients.
Moreover, the beneficial effects of taking enough steps were observed even if the exercise was neither very intense nor very prolonged. Even gentle or moderate exercise, even if it was spaced out over the whole day, made a big difference to several health risk levels.
This is an important finding, because in order to make a difference to public health, a daily exercise recommendation needs to be both effective and realistic. Taking 10,000 steps a day is not too difficult or onerous, and can fit into most people’s daily lives with very little difficulty.
Steps Per Day and Public Health
Tudor-Locke & Bassett claim that, although the guideline of steps per day could never be perfectly suited to all individuals in all situations, it is pretty safe to describe people who take <5000 steps per day as ‘sedentary.’ 5000-7499 steps per day is classified as ‘low active,’ and ‘active’ describes people who take 10,000 steps per day or more. However, 10,000 steps is only a very rough guideline, and may not be appropriate for everybody. For example, children normally need more exercise than they would get with 10,000 steps, and boys would normally need even more than girls. Older adults, even when healthy and active, would normally not need as many as 10,000 steps daily (and would likely struggle to reach this number daily even if they wanted to). Step Tracking and Your Health and Fitness Goals So as we have seen, the idea that walking 10,000 steps per day is backed by research evidence, and should definitely help you become fitter and healthier. However, keeping a count, in your head, up to 10,000, of how many steps you’ve walked, is not very realistic. If you just want to count your steps, there are various step counters you can buy to help you keep track. Typically, you get a little gadget that you clip onto your waistband or carry in your pocket – and, of course, you can get something like a smartwatch that senses how many steps you take. We all have slightly different sized steps, and our bodies use slightly different amounts of energy to take a step–or 10,000 steps–but you can also get quite sophisticated pedometers that you can customize to your personal profile. Sometimes you have to ‘teach’ your pedometer how long each of your steps normally is, and then it can record both how many steps you have taken, and approximately how much distance you have covered. Some pedometers have their own GPS, while others are just sensor devices which then have to be read on your computer. There are thousands of different makes and models available, so it’s quite easy to find a device to suit your needs and your budget.
We know that we need exercise to stay healthy. We know that approximately 10,000 steps per day is a realistic level of exercise. We know that there are many devices to help you keep track of how many steps you take each day – so now there is no excuse for not taking the steps and reaping the rewards!