10,000 Steps Can Help Increase Daily Activity

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This column first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader

"Have you gotten your 10,000 steps today?" As more and more people are wearing activity or fitness trackers, the number of daily steps has become a common topic of conversation.

And if you are wearing one, chances are you have heard you should be striving for 10,000 steps per day. However, the more important goal for many people may be just to increase physical activity in all of their daily routine.

The idea of 10,000 steps can be traced back to the 1990s to several research articles that demonstrated the benefit of walking at least this many steps every day. At the time, these articles were promoting the usefulness of pedometers to count the number of steps taken and compare that to health benefits.

The number of steps that is "doable" and "measurable" and is enough to have some demonstrable benefit was determined to be 10,000 for adults ̶ about the equivalent of walking five miles.

By meeting the goal of walking 10,000 steps per day, you may see health benefits such as:

  • modest weight loss
  • improving the function of your heart and lungs
  • improving your stamina
  • helping you sleep
  • improving your mood/relieving stress
  • improving your mobility
  • help improving sugar control for overweight diabetics.

However, accumulating 10,000 steps over the course of the day is what is important and it doesn't have to be gotten all at once through exercise. Health benefits extend to routine physical activity so people can be encouraged to increase physical activity in all of their daily routine.

Some relatively easy ways to increase your steps and your activity include:

  • Taking the steps instead of the escalator/elevator
  • Parking in the back of the parking lot rather than at the door of a store
  • Walking to work
  • Push mowing the yard

And while 10,000 steps is a good number for most people, it should be a goal approached gradually for those who are not already active. Start counting your steps and try to increase your daily number by 10 to 20 percent each week or so until you reach 10,000. If you are trying to lose weight, walking more than 10,000 will burn extra calories but be careful not to increase your steps to the point that you risk injury. In addition to striving for 10,000 steps, eating a nutritious, well-rounded diet is equally important for your overall health. And if it is your goal to lose weight, it is nearly impossible to do this through exercise alone. You also have to cut back on calories.

The three greatest health risks and cause of as many as one-third of premature deaths are tobacco, poor diet and lack of physical activity. By taking a few steps ̶ or even 10,000 ̶ you can make a personal choice to make a difference in your overall health.

By Dr. Scott Black is director of the Division of Physician Assistant Studies at the UK College of Health Sciences

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