by Kathleen Barnes
We have become a nation of couch potatoes. The average American takes only 5,900 steps a day, somewhat better than the sedentary Brits that average less than 4,000. The notion that overall we need to take 10,000 steps a day to be physically fit started with manpo-kei, a 1960s Japanese marketing tool to sell pedometers.
While the 10,000 steps concept lacks specific supporting science, it’s widely acknowledged that we are healthier the more that we move. Affixing a target number to it helped spread the notion of the benefits of walking, says Catrine Tudor-Locke, Ph.D., a walking behavior researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Tudor-Locke is a proponent of the walking goal, although she readily admits the real objective is to get people moving more. “Any opportunity to walk more, more frequently and farther, wherever that is—it all adds up,” she says.
Making 10,000 Steps Possible
For those already physically fit and physically active, 10,000 steps is a no-brainer. However, it’s never too late to start for those with exercise programs that have been supplanted by a too-busy-to-workout lifestyle.
There’s probably no easier exercise than walking, says Dr. Melina Jampolis, the Los Angeles author of The Doctor on Demand Diet. “Walking is the number one exercise I recommend to most of my patients, because it is exceptionally easy to do, requires only a supportive pair of quality sneakers and has tremendous mental and physical benefits that increase just by getting outside in the fresh air.”
The biggest bang for the increased effort is the first 3,000 to 4,000 steps between the sedentary baseline and 10,000 steps, Tudor-Locke explains.
“Still, 10,000 steps is the magic number for the average American,” says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. “That specific number of steps seems to help break down insulin resistance, an underlying cause of Type 2 diabetes. We’re not exactly sure how this happens, but we know that this amount of exercise takes the glucose from the blood where it is a hazard to the cells, so that it becomes less hazardous.”
Exponential Health Benefits
Many more well-documented health benefits of a walking program include:
• increased heart health
• lower blood pressure
• stronger muscles
• improved balance
• weight control
• natural stress relief
Several studies from places like Harvard Medical School’s affiliate Brigham and Women’s Hospital also show that a brisk walking program nearly cut in half the risk of early death in breast cancer patients.
Most exercise experts note that a walking pace that leaves the walker only slightly out of breath reaps the greatest rewards. “One hundred steps a minute is a good cadence,” advises Tudor-Locke.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly, or 30 minutes five days a week, for virtually everyone. Many experts don’t believe it’s necessary to move for 30 minutes straight. Ten-minute increments work fine; so a quick morning walk around the block, another outing during the lunch hour and a refreshing walk with the dog after work can do the trick. Some evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion suggests that varying walking speed is even more effective in overcoming insulin resistance and burning calories.
Roizen recommends wearing a pedometer or using a free iPhone app (no need for a fitness band), mainly to keep up awareness of our daily step count. There’s no age when we don’t need to walk anymore.
If a consistent 10,000 steps does wonders for health, some ask if more would be better. “Ten thousand is the answer for health and longevity, but 12,000 or more makes a difference for fitness and calorie burning, so go for it!” Roizen says.
Kathleen Barnes is the author of numerous books on natural health, including Our Toxic World: A Survivor’s Guide. Connect at KathleenBarnes.com.
Breathwalking Adds Benefits
This kundalini yoga breathing technique, when combined with a brisk walking program, changes the basic rhythms of the body, even at cellular levels, according to the Kundalini Research Institute, in Santa Cruz, New Mexico.
Breathwalking, a particular combination of breathing and walking, improves several brain functions, according to research the institute conducted with the University of Arizona. Breathwalking, compared to normal walking, increases executive function by as much as 80 percent and improves cognitive function, judgment and mental focus. Other findings by the institute are that breathwalking improves vision, including depth of field and clarity of detail, as well as muscle balance and heart function.
“If aerobic exercise resembles the pure power of a single frequency emanating from a strong radio station, then breathwalking looks like many frequencies mixed into complex and richly textured patterns. One is a tone; the others add melody, chords and harmonies. It is like comparing loud noise to sophisticated music,” notes the organization’s website.
How to Do It
Wave breath: Inhale steadily through the nose to the count of four while taking four steps, exhale through the mouth to a count of four while taking another four steps.
Stair breath: Make four distinct inhalations through the nose to a count of four while taking four steps; and then exhale through the mouth in four sharp exhalations while taking another four steps.
Dr. Jim Nicolai, who is affiliated with the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, in Tucson, has created a helpful instructional video at Tinyurl.com/HowToBreathwalk.