10,000 may NOT be the "magic number" of steps per day!

healthy eating healthy living healthy recipes mindful movement morning practice real food resilience stress-free Jan 15, 2022

Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

Being physically active is one of the most important and powerful ways to maintain good health. You may have heard the health recommendation to get “10,000 steps per day.” 

New research shows that similar health benefits are seen when people get as little as 7,000 steps per day. And given how judgmental we can be towards our shortcomings, I hope this will ease your mind!

A group of American researchers recently published a study in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. They wanted to find out how many steps are associated with a reduced risk of premature death for middle-aged adults. They gave 2,110 participants ages 38-50 a wearable activity monitor to measure their steps, then grouped participants into three categories: 

  • Low - those who took fewer than 7,000 steps per day
  • Moderate - those who took 7,000-9,999 steps per day
  • High - those who took 10,000+ steps per day. 

Researchers followed up with participants twice per year for several years afterwards (10.8 years, on average). They wanted to see how many died prematurely (earlier than the US population mean life expectancy) and compared this to how many steps they took per day and how quickly they were stepping.

They also accounted for a number of other factors such as smoking history, body weight and height, alcohol intake, diet (and rated it based on the Healthy Eating Index), fasting glucose, total cholesterol, blood pressure, and the medications that participants were using.

The researchers found that people who took a moderate number of steps per day (7,000-9,999) had their risk of premature mortality reduced by 50-70% compared with those who took only 6,999 or fewer steps per day. What’s also interesting is that those who took a high number of steps per day (10,000+) had almost the same benefit as the moderate group. 

In other words, whether you take 7,000, 8,000, or even 10,000+ steps per day you have the same reduced risk of dying prematurely.

These findings were also consistent across racial groups and genders. “This cohort study found that higher daily step volume was associated with a lower risk of premature all-cause mortality among Black and white middle-aged women and men,” said the study authors.

But, what about how quickly people stepped? Did people who jogged or even ran have a further reduced risk? The speed or number of steps per minute is called “step intensity.” This study looked at, but did not find, that step intensity made any difference to the health benefits, although previous studies have found that intensity may reduce heart disease risk factors. In other words, middle-aged adults don’t need to sprint, or even jog, to reduce their risk of premature mortality. 

Walking For Fitness - Is It Really Enough?

And yet walking often gets a bad rap when it comes to fitness. A lot of fitness pros may even scoff at the idea of a walk being a “true” workout. You may even find yourself feeling like a bit of a slacker on the days you choose to walk rather than do a higher intensity workout.

But, many experts do agree that not only does walking yield a ton of health benefits, it also improves your overall fitness too.

So, before you go ditching those comfy walking shoes, let’s learn how the experts are weighing in on the link between walking and better fitness. 

Walking & Aerobic Fitness 

When it comes to improving your heart health, look no further than a brisk walk around the block.  In fact, one study showed that walking briskly for only 30 minutes a day can significantly improve V02 max – this is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise.

In addition to improving aerobic fitness, walking has also been shown to reduce risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease. Reduced blood pressure, BMI, waist circumference and overall body fat were among some of the benefits to adopting a regular walking routine.

Short on time? You can still reap the cardiovascular benefits of walking by performing 3 bouts of 10-minute intervals. Basically, every little bit counts, so keep that body in motion whenever you can!

Walking for strength gains & strong bones

While walking certainly isn’t going to give you the shredded muscular physique of a bodybuilder,  it still packs a big punch when it comes to maintaining your muscle mass.  One study looked at the benefits of walking amongst older adults and its impact on muscle mass. 

Researchers found that those who performed higher amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity (such as walking) significantly reduced their risk of sarcopenia -- a condition defined as the loss of muscle mass and function (muscle wasting or “frailty syndrome”), commonly seen in older adults.

There’s also evidence that walking can keep your bones strong too. Because walking is a weight bearing activity, it helps maintain bone density and strength.

Intensity matters!

While walking is hugely beneficial for overall health and wellbeing, we may need to pick up the pace.  The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommends adults between the ages of 18-64 perform 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise.

Brisk walking is one of the many activities recommended, but as CSEP outlines, the intensity is also important. 

“Moderate-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat a little and to breathe harder. Vigorous-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat and be out of breath.”
~ Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

Keep an eye on your intensity by using ‘the talk test’. You should be able to talk, but carrying on a conversation may be challenging. If you’re able to talk at leisure, it’s time to up the pace ;)

Make the most of your walking workout

You can get the most bang for your walking workout by making just a few small tweaks: 

For example, try varying the terrain of your outdoor walk or even adding hills to your usual treadmill routine.

And, the best way to get results from a walking program? 

In one word, consistency. 

If you can’t fit in a “formal” workout, focus on walking as much as you can, whenever you can.  Make walking part of your everyday routine and you’ll reap those fitness benefits in no time.  

You can also increase the heart healthy benefits of walking by adding a few key nutrients into your diet!

See below for a super easy, fresh tasting Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe that’s filled with heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids and fresh garlic to help protect against heart disease.  It’s a healthier alternative to the sugar- and salt-laden store bought salad dressings that are chock-full of preservatives. Plus, it’s packed with flavour and takes only minutes to make.  Include a Mixed Green Salad with a variety of additional veggies, served with this delicious Balsamic Vinaigrette as part of your daily menu planning.  :)

How can Habit Acquisition Strategies help us get to 7,000 steps or more?

We all recognize the importance of regularly moving our bodies, and we now know that walking 7,000 steps, 10,000 steps or more will be a healthy activity, but let’s face it, if you’re not a regular walker, then the thought of immediately trying to manage 10,000 steps every day is a daunting task!

That’s where an understanding of how to acquire sustainable habits can help.  The secret?  Instead of going all out, which usually doesn’t last for more than a few days (remember those New Year’s resolutions?), try breaking your goal into smaller, more manageable tasks – ones that you can commit to doing every day!  Something so easy that it would be foolish to skip it even for one day!  And in this case, it can be as simple as a short walk around the block after breakfast each morning.  Before you know it you will want to go further!

So start with a lower, more realistic number and be consistent!  Then over time, working your way up won’t seem quite so difficult.

The bottom line of this study is that middle-aged people should aim to get at least 7,000 steps each day to reduce their risks of dying prematurely.

Have trouble getting those 7,000 steps every day? Try:

  • Starting with a smaller goal, but being consistent
  • Downloading an app or using a pedometer to keep track of your progress
  • Make and appointment with yourself at a specific time, every day, to make it a habit and avoid distractions
  • Enlist a family member, friend, neighbour, or a 4-legged companion to keep you company

And of course in winter, take advantage of outdoor activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing - because they count too!

Recipe:  Heart Lovin’ Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Ingredients

  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar (beware of added fillers and preservatives)
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp of honey, unpasteurized
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper, fresh cracked
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, pressed & minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)

Preparation

  1. Place all ingredients in a mason jar and close the lid tightly. 
  2. Shake the ingredients until well blended. 
  3. Drizzle 1-2 Tbsp on your favourite salad to add a savoury heart-healthy nutritional punch.

References:

Paluch, A. E., Gabriel, K. P., Fulton, J. E., Lewis, C. E., Schreiner, P. J., Sternfeld, B., Sidney, S., Siddique, J., Whitaker, K. M., & Carnethon, M. R. (2021). Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. JAMA network open, 4(9), e2124516. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24516

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2783711

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8417757/

Science Direct - Preventative Medicine Journal (March 2015): The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP/SCPE): Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults 18-64

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/health/a37896677/7000-steps-10000-steps/

https://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/a31788212/how-many-steps-should-you-walk-a-day/

Science Direct - Preventative Medicine Journal (January 2005): The effects of short- vs. long-bout exercise on mood, VO2max, and percent body fat

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/958398

https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2021/09/04/seven-thousand-daily-steps-longer-life-study/4631630705833/?spt=su&or=btn_tw

Age and Aging Journal (September 2016): Physical activity and incidence of sarcopenia: the population-based AGES—Reykjavik Study

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center: Exercise for Your Bone Health

For more info on this and other natural health topics:

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