10,000 steps… you must be joking


Many weight loss programs are based on the “No Pain, No Gain” theory that requires a maximum physical effort for a long as possible. The aim is to expend or use as many K calories as possible. While some of these programs experience some success they can also produce side effects that often outweigh the weight loss.

One exercise prescription used weight loss programs and for general health improvements is walking 10,000 steps per day. It is prescribed in weight loss because of its moderate intensity and longer duration benefits.

Most eating plans for weight loss recommend some carbohydrate reduction. If the accompanying exercise recommendation is high intensity exercise the client can quickly fatigue due to the lack of fuel used for this activity.

The 10,000 steps preserve the carbohydrate fuel stores and uses fat as the main fuel for the activity. Given that the eating plan is what will predominately contribute most to the weight loss the physical activity prescription has to be realistic and sustainable.

 We know that obesity often results in a mild inflammation that increases the activation of elements of the immune system such as macrophages, lymphocytes and cytokines. This places additional stress on the immune system to not only fight normal infections but to also control the obesity side effects.

In some case high intensity exercise has the ability to contribute to the body’s already inflamed obesity state potentially causing additional harm to the cell membrane of many other tissues.

If high intensity exercise is used for weight loss, clients must have previously progressed through the earlier levels of intensity in order to prepare the body for the increased fatigue and side effects that it will cause.

Energy Expended

For adults the 10,000 steps approximates to a distance of about 8 kilometres and has the potential to burn between 300-400 K calories depending on your body size.
 To give the 10,000 steps some perspective, most people in their general daily routine walk between 4,000 to 6,000 steps per day, which means there is a general daily deficit of about 4,000 steps. There are some sedentary people that do not even walk 2,000 steps.

The minimum number of steps to be completed for any strong positive change to occur is 7,500 steps.

For the intensity to be classified as “moderate intensity” it is recommended that you walk at a 100 steps per minute. This translates into approximately 1,000 steps per 10 minutes, which has a moderate metabolic equivalent or at an approximate speed of 5 kilometres per hour.

At 1,000 steps per 10 minutes the 10,000 steps would be completed under 100 minutes.

The 10,000 steps should be included with or within your incidental and active living activities. The duration for 10,000 steps to be completed is generally between 50-100 minutes depending on the speed of the steps.

The 10,000 steps can be completed at any one time or over periods of time during the day.

As an alternative to counting the 10,000 steps you can complete 60-100 minutes of continual or intermittent walking or walk for a total distance of 8 kilometres continually or intermittently.
During periods of progressive overload it is recommended that no less than an additional 250 steps per day be recommended at any one time in order for you to build up to the 10,000 steps per day. The steps per day can also be taken in 10 minutes bouts to meet the desired goals.

If you can’t start at 10,000 steps begin at a level that you can maintain and slowly overload until you feel confident of going to the next level eventually reaching 10,000 steps.

To give some comparison, a typical 30 minutes exercise session of moderate intensity is approximately equal to an energy expenditure of 150 K calories.

Attempts have been made to classify activity levels according to the number of steps completed in a day.

 Steps                                Classified
 <5,000 steps                    Sedentary
 5,000-7,499 steps             Low active
 7,500-9999 steps              Somewhat active
 10,000-12,500                 Active
 >12.500                         Highly Active

Normal healthy adults generally walk between 7,000-13,000 steps per day. Children are reported to walk 11,000-13,000 steps per day.

In a study conducted in Japan a group of diabetic subjects who completed 19,000 steps per day lost on average 7.7 kgs over a 6-8 week period compared to 4kg lost by subjects who dieted only and averaged approximately 4,000 steps a day.

It is becoming more apparent that a dose response approach to a “steps per day ” is most effective for different populations. For example, improvements in depression begin to appear in individuals who complete approximately 7,500 steps per day while changes in body composition require a much higher daily step count.

Another study stated sedentary workers in an intervention program consisting of walking by counting steps achieved a large decrease in waist circumference.

One Danish study reported that the active workers who walked more gained less weight than their sedentary counterparts.
Amish Walkers
Perhaps the most impressive results of walking is amongst the Amish people of North America. Their simple non technology, non automated lifestyle requires them to walk approximately 18,425 daily steps for men and 14,196 for women mainly accumulated from Monday to Saturday, as Sunday was a day of rest.

It was very rare to find an Amish person who did not walk at least 10,000 steps per day.

The high levels of lifestyle physical activity of the Amish people contributes to them having the lowest prevalence of obesity and overweight in North America.
Bottom Line

The message is to stay on your feet and keep on walking for as much of the day as you can.

Dr Paul Batman
Director of Education