That physical exercise is essential to maintain good health is something we are not going to stop hearing anytime soon. No matter how much we try to compensate by adopting diets or other healthy habits (which, on the other hand, is a good thing), there is only one way to avoid the damage that a sedentary lifestyle can do to our body’s various systems.
For the laziest of us, one form of low-impact exercise that can meet our body’s requirements is walking. However, it is not enough to take short walks, but to really have a decisive impact on our health it is necessary to have a certain caloric intake … that is, each person needs to walk a minimum distance.
10,000 steps as a starting point
The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends walking a minimum of 10,000 steps per day for most adults. Roughly speaking, this would equate to about five miles or a walk of just over an hour and a half. However, there are some differences depending on our age and health status and goals.
Be that as it may, walking this amount should result in systematic improvements in a number of areas, such as muscle strength, range of motion, circulatory flow, flexibility, balance, joint stiffness, mood, sleep and breathing.
Beyond this, this would be sufficient physical exercise to achieve significant weight loss in overweight people that compromises their health, according to an analysis published by the Obesity Society.
Differences according to age
Although this is a general recommendation (and, according to the CDC, especially applicable to young adults and middle-aged people), the requirements vary depending on our age.
For example, younger children (between 3 and 5 years old) would logically not have to walk as far. In this case, what is recommended is simply that they engage in active play every day.
On the other hand, from the age of 6 and more or less up to the age of 17, the time of life begins when we should exercise our bodies more. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and collected by the CDC itself suggests that in this age range the right amount would be more or less between 11,300 and 12,500 steps per day, or one hour of aerobic and strength exercise.
In contrast, for older people, the count is somewhat lower. According to a review published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the greatest health benefits in this population group were seen especially in those who walked between 6,500 and 8,000 steps per day.
How to increase your step count
These goals may seem somewhat unattainable, but the truth is that in our day-to-day lives we can find numerous opportunities to add steps to our step count without having to dedicate specific time to walking just to exercise.
For example, taking stairs instead of elevators (in this case, the exercise intensity is significantly higher than walking), taking advantage of lunch breaks or phone calls to walk, walking with friends when we meet them, using the bathroom or the farthest meeting rooms in the office, parking farther away than usual from our destination, getting off public transportation earlier or walking to work.
Raise the intensity
Those looking to achieve exceptional fitness (in the sense of improving their strength, flexibility and endurance) should up the intensity of their exercise a bit, which can be achieved by walking uphill or, as we have seen, climbing stairs.
Under these conditions, reports the American Council on Exercise, up to three times more muscle fibers are worked than walking the same distance on flat ground.
Stairs and slopes are not the only way to obtain these benefits, but it is also equally valid to increase the walking speed by about 25% (if a person normally walks at about 5 km/h, one should try to increase it to a little over 6 km/h), using weights on the wrists or ankles or practicing Nordic walking (that is, using poles to also work the upper body).