I just learned that fewer than half of adults are getting enough physical activity to benefit their health. (Um, yes, that would be me.) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 60 percent of us are walking for exercise, we’re falling short of the recommended intensity and duration. (Me, again.)
The health benefits of walking are well documented. RealAge.com reports that in addition to heart health benefits, better sleep and improved mood, walking regularly can lower your risk of arthritis, macular degeneration and even cancer by an astonishing 50 percent compared with people who don’t exercise.
Did you ever stop to think how many steps you take each day? The optimum number is 10,000. That sounds like a lot, but a Wall Street Journal article reports there’s evidence that the number of steps you take each day correlates to healthy weight. In fact, obesity rates are much higher in states where 4,500 steps is the norm (Arkansas and Tennessee) versus a state where 6,500 is the average (Colorado).
The effects of increasing your daily number of steps will vary based on your weight and how far and fast you walk. A one-mile walk burns about 150 calories for someone weighing 150 pounds (a heavier person burns more calories than those who weigh less); a faster pace would increase the number of calories burned. A lengthy stroll could burn 250 calories, while a very brisk walk could burn 600.
Figuring the average stride for an adult at 2.5 feet means you cover a mile in roughly 2,000 steps—10,000 steps would be five miles. Many people are using pedometers and other fitness trackers to measure their steps. One of my daughters uses a free tracker on her iPod, while the other swears by her FitBit, which is a step counter that also logs calories burned and sleep quality. She claims that reading the dashboard of this gadget is motivating and addictive. A Google search for fitness trackers came back with many choices, from basic, paper-and-pencil charts to pedometers that wirelessly log into a computer. I was amazed at the cool technology available for walkers and the health conscious. Read some reviews here.
Just getting started? Thewalkingsite.com suggests you try a step counter for one week to determine your average daily steps, then build up by 500 per day until you get to 10,000. If you have a lifestyle that has you on your feet, you may already be close to the target. If not, here are some easy ways to boost your totals:
- Walk the dog.
- Join a local walking group.
- Park farther from your destination.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk to a postbox instead of putting outgoing mail in your own mailbox.
While all the gadgets out there are intriguing, all you really need is a good pair of shoes and enough willpower to get up off the couch. Maybe with a walking buddy and an iPod loaded with lively music, I will step it up myself.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.