How Much Walking Do We Need and How Quickly Should We Progress?

One of the first goals, when you’re trying to become more active, should be to focus on the consistency of the new activity rather than increasing the duration of the activity. Most individuals, however, do just the opposite. As you become consistent you can then begin to increase the duration of walking or for that matter, any other activity. In terms of progressing, it will depend on the fitness level of the individual. Whether the individual is de-conditioned or a novice, they will need to determine a baseline with respect to the activity (in this case walking). Start by wearing a pedometer over the course of three days to find out the average number of daily steps, For example, let’s say it is about 5500 steps a day. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that the average American takes 5117 steps a day. For the novice or the person who has not done much exercise lately, they should progress slowly by trying to add about 500 steps a week to their baseline number (i.e. 5500 steps) until they build-up to 10,000 steps a day. In this example, that would take about two months. For the individual who is already active, they could be more aggressive, adding 500 steps a day until they reach 10,000.

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photo credit: http://livehealthy.chron.com

There are many health and fitness benefits that come with building up to walking 10,000 steps a day; your muscles get stronger, body composition changes and your aerobic system also improves. One walking study showed participants who increased their steps to average more than 9,500 a day for 32 weeks lost 5 pounds, 1.9% body fat and 1.9 centimeters from their hips. They also increased their HDL cholesterol by 3 mg/dL and lowered their BMI by nearly 2 points (participants increased their steps on average by 4,000 steps a day while in the study).

In addition, it’s also important to maintain that consistency of walking 10,000 steps a day once you’re there. Research by Krogh-Madsen and colleagues showed the dramatic changes that can take place after just two weeks of decreasing your activity. Their research looked at subjects who were young, lean, healthy men who decreased their daily steps from 10,000 steps a day to 1,300 steps a day. As a result, they experienced an increase in body weight, 7% decline in VO2 max, a 2.8% loss of lean muscle in their legs, and a 17% drop in insulin sensitivity after just two weeks of decreasing their activity by 8,700 steps a day. Americans may take 5117 steps a day on average, as I mentioned, but some adults take between 2,000 and 12,000 steps a day while adults who are sedentary average only 1300 steps a day.

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.”

― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964)

References

Schneider PL, Bassett DR, Thompson DL, Pronl NP, and Bielak KM (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. Am J Health Promotion 21(2): 85-89.

Krogh-Madsen R, Thyfault JP, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Olsen RH, Mounier R, Plomgaard P, van Hall G, Booth FW, and Pedersen, BK (2010). A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. J. Applied Physiology, 108(5):1034-1040.

Bassett DR,  Wyatt, HR, Thompson H, Peters JC, Hill, JO (2010). Pedometer-Measured Physical Activity and Health Behaviors in U.S. Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 42(10): 1819-1825. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181dc2e54.

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