DR. GIFFORD JONES
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?
My first step was to purchase a pedometer. It’s a small battery operated device (the cost about $35) that fits on your hip and counts your steps. Mine has more gizmos than I need, but the main button counts steps and another the calories burned up.
For years my normal day involved a 25-minute walk to my office and the same route home in late afternoon.
During the day I never ran a marathon in the office but I also never slept on the couch. So I could hardly wait to open the pedometer to see how I fared.
The final tab, 9,100 steps. Studies show that most people take from 3,000 to 5,000 steps daily. This is short of the 10,000 steps we’re supposed to take.
But are we?
I discovered it was the Japanese who published 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.
It means walking a hefty five miles.
But how many calories does 10,000 steps burn up? Let’s say you’ve 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, all most people need for the entire day.
That’s when the pedometer flashes bad news. You will be surprised at the small number of calories you’ve burned up after a brisk walk. For instance, a 150 lb person, after 10,000 steps, loses only 500 calories!
So how do we burn up the other calories? Our Basal Metabolic Rate eats up 60% of our daily energy to keep all our organs functioning. Another 10% is required to absorb, digest and store food.
But why even buy a pedometer when we know that any amount of walking is good for you? Researchers I talked to stressed that counting steps with a pedometer is a great motivator and has more psychological impact than counting miles. But although stepping it up helps to lose weight it will never win ‘the battle of the bulge’ without watching calories.
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 has 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 strengthen 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.