It’s not been too long since all of us have got a new activity tracker application on our mobile phones or a smartwatch to keep track of our steps; aiming to walk towards that magic figure of 10,000 steps in a day — the ultimate number that will keep us fit and healthy. However, a new study shows that fewer than 5,000 steps might also just do and be enough to see a benefit.
The team from the Medical University of Lodz in Poland and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US analysed more than 226,000 people around the world and found that 4,000 steps were enough to start reducing the risk of dying prematurely of any cause. Furthermore, just over 2,300 are sufficient to benefit the heart and blood vessels.
Researchers said, the more you do, the more health benefits are seen. Every extra 1,000 steps beyond the 4,000 reduced the risk of dying early by 15% up to 20,000 steps. The study found that people of all ages and genders might benefit from walking, no matter where they lived. However, those under 60 years old experienced the greatest advantages.
Overall lifestyle changes — including diet and exercise are effective
Prof Maciej Banach, from Lodz University, said that while the number of advanced drugs for treatment was growing, they were not the only answer. “I believe we should always emphasize that lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which was a main hero of our analysis, might be at least as, or even more, effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and prolonging lives,” he said. Insufficient physical exercise is the fourth most common cause of death worldwide, accounting for 3.2 million deaths annually, per data from the World Health Organisation.
Sitting too much slows down the metabolism
Honey Fine, a personal trainer, and instructor for global fitness company Barry’s, emphasizes the problems that come from sitting down too much. “It can slow your metabolism and affect muscle growth and strength, which can cause aches and pains,” she tells the BBC.
“Sitting down for too long can also cause all sorts of back problems, we find this a lot with people with office jobs, that their backs are constantly put in a stressed compressed position which causes a lot more problems later on in life.” Honey Fine explains the importance of non-exercise activity thermogenesis – also known as Neat, “which in simple terms is everything we do that uses energy and burns calories”. “Tasks like standing, carrying shopping, washing the floors, hoovering, pacing whilst talking on the phone – it’s all the little things that make us more active that help us to burn calories more efficiently,” she said.
What is NEAT- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis?
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. It includes the energy used when walking to work, typing, doing garden chores, working in the garden, and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activity significantly increases metabolic rate, and an individual’s daily NEAT is the result of the accumulation of several exothermic actions.
Therefore, it is not unexpected that NEAT accounts for a sizable portion of a person’s non-resting energy requirements. Epidemiological research emphasises how crucial culture is in both fostering and stifling NEAT. NEAT is higher for manual labourers and those in agriculture, whereas wealth and industrialisation seem to be reducing NEAT. Intriguingly, physiological studies show that NEAT is controlled by changes in energy balance; NEAT rises with overeating and falls with undereating. NEAT may therefore play a crucial role in determining whether we retain our current weight, become obese, or shed pounds.
The rewards of walking are great for physical and mental health
“Including regular walks into your routine may seem difficult at first, but doing so will pay off greatly for your health,” says Honey Fine. “Walking can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your muscles to protect your bones, it can increase energy levels as well as give you endorphins and it can help you maintain a healthy weight alongside healthy eating,” she adds.
Additionally, your mental health will benefit, and you’ll get valuable time away from screens and other distractions. Because walking is low impact and gentle on joints and muscles, she continued, “almost anybody” can benefit from it.
A personal trainer’s top tips for walking
- Walk to the station rather than going by bus or car
- If you work at a desk, set hourly reminders to get up and move around
- If you are pregnant, walking is the best kind of exercise to do
- Take a daily 30-minute walk listening to a podcast
- Walk with friends in a park or forest trails and walk the dog if you have one
- Start small – a 10-minute walk from the station to the office can easily build up to a 20-minute stroll in the park and finally a 30-minute walk around town
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