As part of living a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to make a point of being active on a daily basis.   Though this used to come naturally to our ancestors, we have to make a purposeful point of moving these days, as our society is built to promote a sedentary lifestyle where we can get most of our daily tasks accomplished without moving much at all.   Thus, one piece of counseling that health care providers often give (including myself!) is to take 10,000 steps a day.  To confirm that I am practicing what I preach, I donned a pedometer a couple of weeks ago to check out my own daily steps.

I must admit to you that prior to this little self-experiment, I was confident that I was well over my requisite 10,000 steps.  I rush around all day long in a whirlwind of activity as many of you do as well – there was no doubt in my mind that I was making the cuts!

Well….was I wrong!

In a crazy day in my clinic, running literally up and down the halls all day, it turns out that I bag only 2,000 steps.  This was a disappointing realization! The first day I discovered this, I thought, no matter, I still have errands to run at the grocery store… those laps up and down the aisles will be sure to get me there.  Nope – just 600 steps more.  (I even took a couple of extra trips down the veggie aisle to buff this up a bit.)  A walk to the gym and back (from the parking lot) gets me another 1,200 steps… and then there’s about another 500-1000 steps around the house between the start and end of the day.

My grand total for a typical, very busy day, ranges between 3,000-4,500 steps.  Not even half!

This is why we all need to have a purposeful focus on activity on a daily basis.   Other than those lucky few of us who truly engage in physical exercise at the workplace (manual labor, or a self-propelled transport/delivery job such as newspaper delivery), we simply do not get enough exercise in our day.

There are two ways to solve this dilemma:
1.  Focused physical activity (workouts at the gym, running, cycling, skiing, etc)
2. Modification of daily life to accomplish those 10,000 steps!

The science behind the 10,000 steps is that walking this distance (about 8km or 5 miles) is equivalent to about a 500 calorie burn (though this amount will vary depending on how much you weigh).  If you have a 500 calorie deficit per day, this would result in one pound of weight loss per week – but remember that this has to be 500 calories above and beyond what you take in.  Also remember that if your weight is stable, you’d have to walk an additional 10,000 steps above and beyond what you already do, without eating anything extra, in order to lose weight at that rate.  Sound difficult? – It is!! This is why the studies show overall that exercise alone does not result in weight loss – unless it is accompanied by a calorie reduced diet.  However, exercise remains crucially important as it has many health benefits, and is very important for weight maintenance as well.

Modification of daily life to increase your daily steps can include any number of things:

  • park at the far end of the parking lot (it is interesting to observe people circling the lot at the gym to get the spot closest to the door!)
  • walk into the the store instead of using the drive-thru
  • go to the mall instead of shopping online
  • take the dog for a longer walk
  • get off the bus one or two stops earlier
  • and the list goes on!

Wearing a pedometer is a great way to monitor and motivate yourself – studies show that it is those of us who walk the least, who benefit the most from this wonderful little tool.

For me, I’ll keep up my workouts at the gym to make sure I top my 10,000 steps worth of activity each day….and I’ll take our dog for a few more trips around the block!

I’d love to hear about your experiences with your pedometer, and how you’ve modified your life to increase your steps!

Dr. Sue © 2011

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