Stepping up to fitness

Is clocking in 10,000 steps daily as effective as it is projected? Fitness experts and enthusiasts weigh in
Representational image.
Representational image.

CHENNAI: After an hour of walking around my apartment, my Fitbit congratulates me for clocking in 6,000 steps. While a part of me is thrilled at this accomplishment, the ambitious side prods me to compartmentalise my day in a way I can complete my 10,000-steps target. This obsession for the magic number seems to have caught on with many in their weight loss journeys.

The history behind this number dates back to the famous marketing campaign conducted shortly before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: ‘man’ meaning 10,000, ‘po’ meaning steps, and ‘kei’ meaning metre. It was hugely successful. While the concept continued to stay relevant, on and off, it has made an impactful comeback in the past two years, thanks to the pandemic. When the entire world was confined to their four walls, it was this mantra of hitting 10,000 steps a day that came as a respite to combat the perils of prolonged periods of sitting.

Walking for wellbeing

The fitness activity comes with a host of benefits to your body. It improves your cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, maintains sugar levels, controls cholesterol, and aids psychological well-being, informs Dr J Karthick Anjaneyan, consultant cardiologist, Gleneagles Global Health City. “It’s better to calculate your heart rate rather than the number of steps to measure your exercise activity for the day. Subtract your age from 220 and that gives your maximum heart rate; you shouldn’t exceed that. We generally recommend 30-45 minutes of walking a day. The number of steps is merely a marketing gimmick, but in a way, attracts people to walk for the good,” he advises.

Clocking in 10k every day assisted in Sharadha Mani’s transformation process. “I have a 9-5 job. Remaining glued to the screen for long hours left me with neck, back, and shoulder pain. I heard about the 10k mantra from my colleagues. It’s been over 15 months, I feel energetic as it serves two purposes — helps me take ample breaks from work and relaxes my mind. The best part is that it becomes a part of your life without having to put extra effort,” says the IT professional.

For Girish Kumar, it was an advertisement from a health insurance provider that drew his attention towards the number. He instantly purchased a smart band and got into the rigour. “I was borderline obese. In eight months, I could witness significant weight loss by just walking. But, the days I felt energetic was soon outnumbered by days I felt exhausted and drained. It takes one and a half hours for me to complete 10k steps. Despite splitting it into smaller chunks across the day, at one point, all I was doing was chasing the deadline. I practise it moderately these days. For some, it seems to be working wonders,” shares the media professional.

How much is too much?

There have been debates around the accuracy of devices that keep track of the steps and calories burnt; and the target number itself. “It’s better to consult a general physician or cardiologist before starting any fitness regime. Sudden or excessive walking can do more harm than good. If you experience palpitations, unpleasant heartbeat, lightheadedness…check with your doctor immediately. Each person’s capacity differs based on their fitness level and heart rate,” he cautions.

Chipping in, Logachandran J, a Chennai-based boxing coach, explains, “People must be mindful of their health conditions and age before indulging in such routines. Right from what you wear while walking to where you walk, everything can influence the output. A mud track or grassy patch would be ideal for a smooth walk. I would suggest walking barefoot and wearing light clothes, but one approach does not fit all. Walking in eight or infinity loop is equally beneficial.”

Besides regular walking, it’s important to exercise your lower limb, glute muscles, thighs, and calf muscles, warns Dr Santhosh Jacob, director, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Be Well Hospital. “If you do not strengthen your leg then the joints will start wearing out. You can get arthritis of the hip, knee, or heel. Whenever you feel monotonous, find an alternative cardio option to keep you pumped up. Movement is important and anything that motivates humans to move is good.”

After all, walking is a gateway to exercise because it doesn’t require any special skill. Perhaps, finding a feasible target baseline, instead of going by the golden standards, can work favourably for you in the long run.

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The New Indian Express