When I read that Americans use their cars for two-thirds of all trips that are less than 1 mile long I was shocked. That’s a lot of wasted gas and money. Wouldn’t it be so much better to commit to walking this distance instead of driving so you burn calories instead of gas and protect the environment at the same time? Not to mention that if you walked just one mile or about 15 minutes every day, you could lose between 6-10 pounds in a year!
Another critical reason why you should walk more is that it is NEAT. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is the heat you generate (aka the calories you burn) from all the incidental movement that you do each day. This is not the same as EAT, or Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is the heat you generate (and calories you burn) from the intentional exercise you do, like going to the gym or playing a sport.
I am sure you know someone (perhaps even yourself) who believes that they were born with a slow metabolism. The truth is, most of these people do not have a metabolism problem, they have a lack-of-movement problem. Let me tell you why…other than for a few rare exceptions, overweight people actually have higher resting metabolic rates that lean people! In addition, NEAT only accounts for about 10% of total daily caloric expenditure for sedentary folks, which is a long ways away from the 50% of total daily caloric expenditure that active folks accrue.
In fact, NEAT can vary by as much as 2000 kcal day when comparing two adult individuals of similar body size, lean body mass, age and gender. 2000 calories, people! That is a huge whopping difference and an entire day’s worth of food! Compare this to exercise, which only account for between 10-30% of total daily caloric expenditure, not to mention that being sedentary has a huge host of negative effects on your health. Some researchers have called sitting the new smoking!
Furthermore, your workouts alone cannot mitigate the negative effects of sitting all day long, so you still need to get up and move around more in your daily life. This is where walking comes in….Walking is an incredibly under-rated activity that we have essentially engineered out of our lives. If you think about it, if you’re an office worker, you likely spend about an hour commuting, 7-9 hours sitting at your desk, and another 2-3 hours watching TV, surfing the web, or watching your kids participate in their activities. That adds up to a LOT of inactivity and this is where walking can save the day.
First of all, you don’t need any equipment and you can walk just about anywhere (you can even walk in place!). Second, you can adapt it to any ability and fitness level, which is why it’s a great type of exercise to do throughout your lifetime. Third, you can sneak it into almost any aspect of your daily life without putting in much extra effort. In fact, studies show that it has the highest adherence rate of any type of physical activity.
To start, if you drive to work, park at the far end of the parking lot and walk in to work. You might be surprised but when I made this simple change, it actually added 976 extra steps into my day! Or take public transportation which will force you to walk more (the average commuter walks 12 minutes a day to get to their stop). You could also increase that by getting off a stop or two early and walking the rest of the way.
Once in your building, take the stairs for a few flights instead of the elevator. Ask your colleagues to participate in walking meetings and start using the water fountain and washroom that are farther away. At lunchtime find a friend and take a walk, leaving just enough time to eat your healthy brown bag. Set an alarm at work that reminds you to take a movement break. During your kids activities, get up and walk around from time to time instead of just sitting down. You can do the same during TV commercials, and phone calls to friends.
But a question I often get asked is “How many steps do I need to walk every day to stay healthy and lose weight?” In the both Canada and the U.S. government recommendations are to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week. In terms of steps, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare recommends walking 8,000 to 10,000 steps daily, while the UK National Obesity Forum recommends 7,000 to 10,000 daily steps to stay moderately active.
The problem is that most of us do not even come close to meeting these guidelines. We rarely walk anywhere anymore due to our sedentary culture and busy lifestyles. According to the UK’s National Health Service, most Canadians only take between 3,000 and 5,000 steps per day and most Americans only accumulate 2,300 to 3,000 steps per day.
Speed walking at a rate of 5 miles or 9 kilometers per hour equates to approximately 10,000 steps. However, most people walk slower than this, at around 3.5 miles per hour, and will need about 90 minutes of walking to achieve 10,000 steps. If walk 10,000 steps five days a week you’ll burn off enough calories to have lost a pound during that week – provided you ate healthy and watched your calorie intake. That equates to a whopping 52 pounds a year!
But unless you measure out a 5-mile route and time your walk, how do you know you are walking at least 10,000 steps? This is where a step-measuring device can help you. My personal favourite and one that I personally use daily is the Pacer app which you can download to your phone for free. Other popular walking apps are Walker and Stepz. Research also shows that wearing fitness tracking devices help increase activity levels, and so they are well worth the investment.
Now if you find that your steps are still not adding up to 10,000 a day, why not finish off your day with a walk after your evening meal? Recruit a friend to walk with or better yet, get a dog! Studies show that 60% of dog owners walked 160 minutes and four times per week, a greater amount and frequency than people in dog-less households. By comparison, only about a third of those without dogs got that much regular exercise.
There are so many healthy reasons to walk besides losing weight that you are doing yourself a disservice if you are not getting in your daily number of steps. Hit your goal each day and reap all of the amazing advantages of walking!