Why I am walking a minimum of 15000 steps a day for a year

And I would walk 15000 steps, and I would walk 15000 more…Just to be the one who walked 15000 steps a day or more. You are very welcome for the brain worm I’ve implanted, now lets get on.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova

As I mentioned in my post on Blue Zones aside from eating a diet devoid of processed food and high in vegetables plus fruit the centenarians moved a huge amount throughout their entire lives. In fact they on average only rest for 8 to 9 hours a day and that includes sleep, most of it is low intensity gardening, walking place to place with distances of 7 to 9 miles not being uncommon. Compare that to the UK where the average step count is a paltry 3000 to 4000 a day[1]

Photo by Alex Azabache

Movement throughout the day or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) has a huge impact on weight, insulin sensitivity and metabolic health.[2] But I exercise I hear you cry, the question then is if we go to the gym a few times a week does that actually make up for spending the rest of the time sitting? Apparently not, if after a bout of exercise, the rest of the day is spent sitting or driving you are still losing out on your primary method of thermogenesis (calorie burning) and as a result are still at risk of a number of metabolic diseases[3]. In fact even in elite athletes sedeantary time outside of training leads to increased abdominal adiposity[4] leading the researchers to conclude

“These findings indicate that athletes with higher amounts of sedentary behaviour presented higher levels of total and trunk fatness, regardless of age, weekly training time, and residual mass. Therefore, even high moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels do not mitigate the associations between sedentary behaviour and body fatness in highly trained athletes.”[5]

As the average age of the cohort researched was 22 this is a little concerning!

It’s not a huge surprise, then that as a nation we are getting bigger, and we are also in general getting sicker.

As hunter gatherers we would have averaged around 16 to 17000 steps a day, we would also have carried chopped and engaged in other physical activities, there are tribes who still live like this although they are becoming a rarity, when moving this much and this often-cardiovascular disease is rare[6] Perhaps it is not the type of exercise or movement we engage in that matters but how often we move, it will come as good news to those who don’t enjoy exercise that you don’t need to engage in vigorous activity either to benefit, you just need to move often. Although I would always recommend both strength training and mobility training for optimal aging.

Photo by SHVETS production

In more recent times such as the 1950s women were estimated to burn around 1000 calories on top of their basal metabolic rate (the calories needed just to exist) through walking, cleaning, cycling and other activities.[7]  While men depending upon their profession could burn more through their work and commute to and from work. Few people had cars, most lived close enough to their place of occupation to walk to and from work and children would be unlikely to get to school any other way than by foot.

Now I am not suggesting we relinquish cars, washing machines and all return to working as Shepherds (though it does sound pretty idyllic) but it is clear we move less than we ever have and the truth is it is not doing anyone any good.

Photo by Rachel Claire

I came to the realisation that I was not immune from this sedentary behaviour, I like to think I am relatively fit for my age, I strength train, use a stationary bike 4 or 5 times a week, CrossFit regularly, practice yoga and walk the dog. But the truth is that although I exercise daily and walk the dog on top the rest of the day I am sat down, I am working towards my PhD which is of course desk work and I now teach and train people primarily from home.

Like a lot of people then my movement has dropped. I want to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can and do what I can to promote a long healthy life. I decided then mid October to walk a minimum of 15000 steps a day. This is based on research on postal workers that found 15000 steps was optimal for blood pressure reduction, cholesterol reduction and many other health benefits[8] I decided initially on a period of 9 months which would take me to my 50th birthday. I then changed that to a year. I believe that to fully appreciate the benefits of any change we have to commit to a reasonable period of time as these types of changes don’t happen quickly. I am particularly interested in changes to my blood pressure, since surgical menopause it sometimes creeps higher than I would like. Not high enough for a doctor to be concerned they reassure me, but outside of the bounds I would be comfortable with. According to the American College of Cardiology a higher step count is linked to lower blood pressure.[9] I would also like to see a reduction in cholesterol, on my last check my levels were at the upper end of ok.

The rules I set myself were as follows:-

  1. Any “steps” count for example if I cycle 15k on my bike erg my watch will register around 5 to 6000 steps. This is helpful as due to caring responsibilities I cannot always leave the house. It is important that any goal we set is achievable and fits into the life the live not the life we would like to live. Equally all steps around the house, shopping etc count. It is simply the total step count at the end of a day.
  2. I am aiming for 90% compliance across the year, as with everything consistency is more important than perfection. There will be times I have responsibilities to others or it might be inappropriate to go for a walk, or when I am too unwell.
  3. I will continue to exercise and eat pretty much as I was, this for the year is the adjustment I am making.
  4. Each day has a target of over 15000 regardless of the previous day, I am not averaging across the week. So, for example if one day is 22000 steps it is irrelevant to the following days activity, I still aim for the 15000 steps. My logic on this is that if I lived in pre-industrial environment I would still need to fetch water and food that day regardless of what I had done the previous day.

I am currently at the end of 4 months and on average have exceeded my target with an average of 17000 to 18000 steps a day and within the 14 weeks have missed only one day.

That day was the day we were traveling on holiday and although I was at 11000 steps it was way too late when we arrived at our accommodation to try explore a new place. Still 1 day missed in 14 weeks is pretty good if you ask me. Things I have learned during this time trying to get over 15000 steps:-

November, December and January
  1. Some days it’s really easy, I will be on the bike in the morning, walk the dog, train a couple of clients, run some errands and before I’m at 1 pm I have already hit the target.
  2. Other days it’s really hard, as in oh my word how many more do I have to do today, how am I not there already and do I really need to go back outside? Really?
  3. For me it is important to be entertained, to fit in the bike and/or walking it is part of my relaxing time, what this means is when I am on the bike I watch tv. I particularly enjoy shows with subtitles as being on the bike means I am captive in my focus, currently I’m working through a selection of Korean sci fi/supernatural dramas. Walking it’s podcasts or books, I will only listen to those books or watch those shows when I’m biking or walking. That way I actively look forward to getting back into my book and the walking is almost subsidiary. If you walk occasionally in the countryside on a beautiful day it may well be enough to just listen to the sounds of nature, if you are planning on walking every single day, in the rain, in the dark, in the snow often next to noisy dirty roads in order to fit it in the sounds around you may seem less attractive. Find something to entertain you!
  4. Having this challenge has meant I have walked on days I would not have otherwise, when I am tired or under the weather. In the past I would have asked someone else to walk the dog, but I remind myself that if I lived in a hunter gatherer community or was a shepherdess I would only take days off if I literally could not move. You would not just stop for feeling a little under the weather. Granted those days are not dynamic walking but I am up and moving. This week for example I have a nasty sinus thing going on, I am not well enough to train or do much really but walking is so much of a neutral activity now I have been able to slowly shuffle around and get my steps in.
  5. I don’t actually weigh myself as it’s  not a metric I am particularly interested in but I have lost weight, some clothes have become looser and snug waist bands now are somewhat baggy.
  6. My cardio has improved significantly, I walk brisker than ever with little effort and don’t feel at all breathless up hills

I am leaving measuring blood pressure etc till much later in the experiment, I will be getting I believe a full MOT at 50 which will be a good time to check over all my health stats and as it will be 9 months since I started this experiment will be a good time to assess how I am doing!

If you are reading this, start tracking your day to day movement with phone, watch or pedometer and find out how active you are outside of formal exercise.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33154510

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6058072/

[3] https://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/Fulltext/2010/07000/Too_Much_Sitting__The_Population_Health_Science_of.3.aspx

[4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2014.926382

[5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2014.926382

[6] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42978-020-00091-0#:~:text=Male%20and%20female%20hunter%2Dgatherers,in%20the%20tribe%20%5B29%5D.

[7] https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/15/this-is-what-diets-and-lifestyles-were-like-in-the-1950s-16826401/

[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28138134/

[9] https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2020/03/18/15/42/step-it-up-higher-daily-step-counts-linked-with-lower-blood-pressure-acc-2020?fbclid=IwAR1Aoh0MT2d7VxdfDfubRKRL8RDAUTCfJBW_JcXFI2y8NAkOjYWt0kV6-2s

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