This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the benefits simply walking can do for our health.
How many steps do most people take daily, and how many are needed for good health? I had no idea how many I take and thought it would be interesting and prudent to find out. And who is right about exercise, Mark Twain or the Earl of Derby?
The first step was to purchase a pedometer. It’s a small battery operated device (the cost $30.00) that fits on the hip and counts your steps. Mine has more gizmos than I need. But the main button counts steps and another the calories burned up.
My normal day involves a 25 minute walk to my office and the same route home in late afternoon. During the day I don’t run a marathon in the office but I also don’t sleep on the couch. So I could hardly wait to open the pedometer to see how I had fared. The final tab, 9,100 steps. Studies show that most people take from 3,000 to 5,000 steps daily. This is a bit short of the 10,000 steps we’re supposed to take. Or are we?
I discovered it was the Japanese that came up with this figure, and there’s nothing magic about it. Rather, the number was used as a smart marketing device in a campaign to sell pedometers. But even though it was a smart sales move, medical authorities have agreed the proposed Japanese figure of 10,000 steps is a healthy number to aim for. But it does mean walking a hefty five miles.
My next question was how many calories does 10,000 steps burn up? Let’s say you’ve just enjoyed a lunch of a double burger, fries and a sugar-loaded 10 ounce soft drink. This packs a caloric wallop of about 1,700 calories.
That’s when the pedometer sends bad news. You will be surprised at the small number of calories you’ve burned up after a brisk walk. For instance, a 150 pound person, after five miles of moderate walking, loses only 500 calories. And it takes one hour of moderate walking to consume the energy of one jelly-filled doughnut.
So the price of a pedometer is worth it if it only hammers home this important message. Stepping it up helps to lose weight, but it cannot win the battle of the bulge without the help of sound nutrition.
But why even buy a pedometer? After all, we all know that walking is good exercise. But do we do it? Researchers I talked to stressed that counting steps with a pedometer is a great motivator and has more psychological impact than counting miles. It helps people to stick with a walking program.
I found that knowing I walk 9,100 steps in an average day pushed me to see how much I could “step up” my own activity. It’s easy to do. You can go for a walk at lunch. Or get off the bus a few blocks from home. The end result will be improved health.
Dr Paul Dudley White, Harvard’s renowned cardiologist who treated President Dwight Eisenhower’s coronary attack, was a firm believer in “stepping-it-up”. He taught that exercise had major physical and emotional advantages and that “If you want to know how flabby your brain is, feel your leg muscles!” Or as Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president remarked, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right”.
Some companies and organizations are encouraging their members to make 10,000 steps their goal. But how many steps are needed depends on your age and health. And remember that walking is free, simple and convenient. Moreover, there’s no need to break the record of the one-minute mile or purchase expensive exercise machines.
There’s never been a better time to stress the health benefits of walking. It’s been proven to help fight obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and strengthens muscles..
But exercise has always been a tough sell. Mark Twain claimed he’d been at the funerals of many friends who believed in exercise more than he did. But I believe the Earl of Derby was right when he remarked, ” Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness”. Amen to that.