How much exercise does it take? Getting started on the 10,000
In December, 2001, the U. S. Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher issued
“The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight
and Obesity.” In this report, Dr. Satcher joined former U.S. Surgeon
General C. Everett Koop by highlighting the health risks and costs
of overweight and obesity and issued a call to Americans to take action.
Dr. Koop founded Shape Up America! in 1994 because of his concern
about the increasing prevalence of obesity in America. The mission
of Shape Up America! is to provide you with solid (scientific) information
on weight management. Over the years, the Surgeon General has warned
Americans about such things as the hazards of cigarette smoking or
a high cholesterol level in your blood. In 1996, the Surgeon General
issued an important report on physical activity and warned us that
regardless of our age, we are just not active enough. Since then,
you may have been scratching your head, wondering just how much activity
would make the Surgeon General happy. Our purpose is to clarify how
much exercise is necessary to manage your weight and to introduce
the 10,000 steps program.
Exercise and Health
The Surgeon General’s recommendation for physical activity is
to add about 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity each day ON
TOP of your customary daily activities. This recommendation is a health
recommendation – it is designed to improve your health and it is backed
by solid evidence that you WILL improve your health if you follow
this recommendation. But is it enough activity to prevent weight regain
after a weight loss program? Is it enough activity to prevent overweight
in the first place? No, the studies show it is not likely to be enough
for either purpose.
For Weight Management -- How Much is Enough?
So how much activity is enough for weight management? There are
now some studies suggesting that walking10,000 steps a day is the
right ball park to be in. Several months ago, we decided to purchase
a pedometer so that we could figure out how to talk to you about the
physical activity goal of “10,000 steps a day.” The pedometer we purchased
is of the very simple variety. It tracks steps and that’s it. We didn’t
care about tracking miles walked or calories burned or any of the
other fancy features that some pedometers offer. We purchased the
basic model, which means it was the least expensive -- costing less
than $30. We learned you can’t just stick it in your pocket. You have
to firmly clip it to a belt or waistband around your waist in order
for it to work properly.
After wearing the pedometer for a few weeks, we learned that in the
normal course of events – just living and working – we took anywhere
from 900 to 3000 steps in a day and not much more. In other words,
we came to realize that it was pretty nearly impossible for us to
get in 10,000 steps in a day without intentionally going out for a
walk (or getting on a treadmill).
Here is what we learned about getting started on the 10,000
- To avoid injury, you need to work up slowly. If you have any
concerns about your joints (ankles, knees or hips) discuss your
exercise plans with your physician.
- You will need a good pair of sneakers. We actually prefer a
running shoe with plenty of cushion. We noticed that we are wearing
out our sneakers and replacing them every six months or so.
- Start out by wearing the pedometer each day for two weeks and
don’t do anything to change your normal routine. Before you go
to bed, take care to log your steps at the end of the day each
day for the entire two-week period. At the end of the second week,
take a look at how many steps you are taking each day in the course
of living your life. Perhaps on some days it is as few as 700
steps in a day and on other days, it may be as high as 2500 steps.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, take the highest number of
steps you have walked on any given day and use that number of
steps as your daily step goal. Feel free to select a smaller number
of steps as your goal if you prefer. To avoid injury, do not select
a higher number. Aim for your goal each day for the next two weeks.
Let’s assume your first step goal is 2500 steps. That means that
for the next two weeks, you are going to try to walk 2500 steps
each day. Before bedtime each night, be sure to log in the number
of steps you actually took.
- At the end of that two-week period, review all the steps you
took each day and decide if you are ready to add another 500 steps
to your goal. Your new step goal is now 3000 steps a day for the
next two-week period.
- Continue in that manner, working up as slowly as you wish, until
you finally reach the goal of 10,000 steps a day.
- Check with your physician if you experience any pain or discomfort
that concerns you. We consider pain a warning signal that something
may be wrong. Our goal is to keep you active for the rest of your
life. So don’t go overboard and pull a muscle that will put you
out of commission. Take it slow. Take it easy.
I Hate to Walk, But I Like To ….
If you really can’t stand to walk but you like to jog or run
-- Go ahead and get your steps in with jogging or running. A pedometer
can track your steps whether you are moving slow or fast. If you
use special exercise equipment or if you like to bicycle, swim or
kayak, we discovered our pedometer does not help us keep track of
our activity. Even on a stair stepper or stair climber in the gym,
it was not accurate. But not to worry, you can “translate” your
10,000 step goal into an equivalent time goal for your favorite
After I have reached my goal, what then?
Whether it is 10,000 steps or some other activity, if you are
reaching your daily activity goal pretty regularly, here is what
you need to know:
- It takes about six months to “lock in” a new behavior. Aim to
do what is necessary to change your exercise behavior permanently.
Be prepared to dedicate yourself to your daily goal each day for
a minimum of six months. If you do that, you are much more likely
to maintain this goal permanently.
- If you skip a few days due to illness, work or other obligations,
the sooner you get back into the exercise groove, the more likely
you will be able to get back into your routine.
- If you continue to skip days, you will discover it is a downward
spiral. The more days you skip, the more likely you will abandon
your program altogether.
- If you can get back in the groove and exercise two days in a
row, you will discover that the third day of exercise will be
easier to achieve.
- If you are starting to get bored, we suggest you start keeping
an exercise log so you can monitor yourself.
- If you are keeping a log but still struggling with boredom,
you may be ready to think about designing a more comprehensive
fitness program for yourself. We can help you design such a program
if you visit our “Fitness Center”
- As another hedge against boredom, consider finding a buddy to
exercise with or locate a few buddies you can call upon to join
you from time to time. But don’t let a flagging commitment on
the part of your buddy influence your commitment to your goals.
Be prepared to carry on alone.
- Members can contact SUA if they have questions about this section