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Beyond 10,000 Steps: Adding Moderate Intensity Increases Health Benefits

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Updated April 22, 2013

Is walking 10,000 steps per day enough to become physically fit? The Health 1st research study in Alberta, Canada found that moderate intensity exercise, rather than total daily steps, worked better to improve aerobic fitness and reduce systolic blood pressure. But both programs burned as many calories, reduced fasting blood glucose and cholesterol.

10,000 Steps vs. Moderate Intensity Exercise

One group exercised for 39 minutes per day at moderate intensity - where they were breathing hard but still able to speak one or two full sentences at a time. The pedometer group was only coached to log 10,000 steps per day at no particular intensity. A control group did neither form of exercise. After 6 months, the moderate intensity group had improved their respiratory fitness by 10%, compared with 4% for the 10,000 steps group. They also saw a greater benefit in reducing systolic blood pressure.

Pedometer Walking is a Great Start

Researcher Dr. Vicki Harber said, "Getting people to do more than they currently do is imperative. The 10,000 step program is an excellent starting point. The pedometer itself provides instant feedback, is motivating for many and shows accumulated steps very nicely. It is self-paced and is geared toward getting people who do virtually nothing to do something. 'Something' is definitely better than nothing. So - we encourage people to accumulate 10,000 steps over the day. This would include shuffling back and forth from your desk to the photo-copier or the coffee machine as well as a hurried sprint to catch the bus. All the steps count."

Don't Stop with 10,000 Steps - Pick Up the Pace

Dr Harber continues, "Once the daily step count is higher, then the addition of some briskness is recommended. There are a growing number of studies showing the benefits (oxygen consumption, body fat control, lipid/glucose metabolism) of including higher intensity activity.

"We're not suggesting people start with higher intensity activity, it must be introduced once the person is accustomed to activity. As well, we are not suggesting that all activity must be performed at a high intensity. Periodic bouts of moderate to higher intensity (ie bouts of activity where speaking may be limited to 1 or 2 sentences at a time OR perhaps limited conversation)," Dr. Harber said in an interview for About.com

Increasing Your Intensity

Dr Harber had these recommendations for those ready to increase their exercise intensity:
  • Make some of the steps harder - walk up hills and stairs.
  • Go faster - try to do the same steps in a shorter time.
"You want to have the huff and puff effect."

Increase Intensity Gradually

If you do not typically have any intensity, you should start with small changes. Allow a gradual introduction to this kind of activity so the muscles can adjust. "If one goes too hard (too intense) or too long, the entire activity routine may be dropped. Work with the idea of progressive overload to give those tissues (joints, muscles - feet and knees are often sore ifyou start walking up hills, for example) - a chance to adapt to the challenge," Dr. Harber said.

Dr. Harber gave this suggested regimen to build time:

  • Start with 10 minute bouts and work your way up.
  • Do 10 minutes once per day, then twice per day'
  • Do 15 minutes once plus 10 another time, then maybe 10 plus 5 and so on until you get up to 30 minutes.

Pump Up Your Walking Workout

Weekly Walking Workouts: Vary your walking workouts to add intensity with faster and slower workouts and interval training.

When Walking Isn't Working: Adding Intensity to Your Walking Workout: Trainer Lorra Garrick explains how to ramp up your walking workouts to get greater health and weight loss benefits.

From Walking to Running: If walking isn't enough to raise your pulse, trainer Lorra Garrick tells you how to begin to add jogging and running to your workouts.

Walk of Life 10-Week Program: Our free 70-day program helps you vary your walking workouts throughout the week, learn good walking form, and make wiser diet choices.

SOURCE: Vicki Harber, Gordon Bell, Wendy Rodgers, Kerry Courneya. "Cardiovascular and Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors Response to a Traditional Fitness and 10,000 Step Exercise Program: The Health 1st Study." American College of Sports Medicine General Meeting, June 1, 2006.

SOURCE: Interview, Dr. Vicki Harber, 10-6-2006.

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