We all know we ought to exercise and eat more healthily. But the question is, how do we get there? One of the tried and true adages is that we should walk 10,000 steps per day for health and weight loss. But why 10,000?
The number has actually been traced to a marketing campaign for a Japanese company that developed a step counter called the Manpo-Kei. While this number was derived arbitrarily, research does associate greater physical activity (ie walking or exercise) to weight loss and improved metabolic health.
However, new research shows we may not need to walk that far. A study from Brigham and Women’s hospital included nearly 17,000 women with an average age of 72 who agreed to wear an accelerometer during all waking hours for a week. The group was followed for about 4 years.
They found that those women who walked 4,400 steps per day were 40% less likely to die during the follow-up period compared to those who walked less (The average American walks 4,000 – 5000 steps/day). They also found no correlation with how fast one walked and the risk of death. In addition, the benefit appeared to level off at 7,500 steps. So, the 10,000 number may not be necessary to achieve real benefits to your health.
It may not be as daunting as you think and making changes to both diet and exercise habits may be the best way to go. A second study performed at Stanford University School of Medicine included 200 inactive participants aged 45 and older with suboptimal diets who specifically complained that their busy schedules did not permit adequate time for healthy choices. The subjects were divided into 4 groups and each received different telephone counseling. The first was advised on changing exercise and dietary habits, the second was instructed on diet first then exercise months later, the third was advised on exercise first followed by diet and the fourth group received education on stress reduction techniques only. The groups were counseled monthly and were followed for a year.
Somewhat counterintuitively, researchers found that those who were advised on making both diet and exercise improvements were most likely to meet national guidelines for diet (5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, <10% calories from saturated fat) and exercise (150 minutes per week). The other groups lagged behind in achieving these benchmarks. The reasons behind this result are unclear, though it is plausible that making a ‘full commitment’ in both areas may be beneficial. In addition, success in one area may motivate you to succeed in the other. Regardless, this is more evidence to get you going!
The incorporation of regular movement such as walking and making small changes to your diet can add up. Using a pedometer can help you track your progress for the day without jumping into a new gym membership. If you incorporate these changes, chances are you’ll feel better and start seeing some results. If you’re still having trouble meeting your goals, then additional interventions such as the ESG and weight loss medications may be helpful.