Recent studies reveal that a high step count and increased pace are linked with better health. Health experts offer a 360-degree plan on how to power-walk your way to fitness
Walking is usually seen as a form of exercise, but is it really? While the exercise ensures that your body is active, it does not necessarily imply fitness, especially if you are strolling or only targeting a specific step count at the end of each day. With office-goers clocking in longer hours seated at their desks or while on their daily commute, sedentary lifestyles are becoming a risky affair. In this case, walking gets a ‘better than nothing’ tag, which Dr Imraan Khan, head of consulting physiotherapy, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, says is a mentality that promoted the idea of counting steps when fitness bands and trackers became popular. While the aim of 10,000 steps a day has been seen as a round figure daily milestone, a new study released earlier this month in JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology, found that step count combined with intensity could lower health problems.
Experts suggest to avoid strolling and ensuring a fast pace
Dr Khan recalls a 2014 study by the Indian Council of Medical Research where it was revealed that 54.4 per cent of 14,227 Indians, who were part of the study were inactive. With time, constraints, tiredness and other factors that pose hurdles in our run to be healthy and fit, daily walking or hitting a step count might not only be achievable, but also be a way for us to reverse our sedentary lifestyles. So how can we walk better to ensure improved health? The answer lies in not just the step count, but also the pace.
To discourage people from being physically inactive and to lower the chances of non-communicable diseases like heart attacks, joint problems, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes due to unhealthy lifestyles and environments, Dr Khan informs that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise in a week. Walking, being a light-intensity activity, does not check the box on this recommendation. To achieve this activity level and ensure you’re clocking in 30 minutes across five days a week correctly, you need to increase the pace. He adds, “The definition of physical activity means any movement that includes the use of your skeletal muscles and energy. If your energy isn’t spent, and your breathing and heart rate haven’t increased, you haven’t really exercised to meet the WHO’s guidelines.”
Dr Imraan Khan, Dr Aashish Contractor and Ira Trivedi
Dr Khan notes that step count, such as walking 10,000 steps a day without intensity, cannot be a measure of fitness. Instead, he suggests opting for brisk or power walking that challenges your cardiovascular endurance. “The number of steps counted on two different devices on the same person will vary. There is a margin of error to account for. Power walk to get tired and push your endurance,” he notes. He also suggests complementing power walking with other exercises to achieve fitness goals; changing your activity to avoid the overuse of only one joint and reduce strain on it; moving all your joints properly and adequately; stretching your tonic muscles in order to avoid any tightness, and help your phasic muscles to increase strength.
Every step counts
Dr Aashish Contractor, director of rehabilitation and sports medicine at Sr HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Girgaum, informs us that being active in any form is better than being inactive especially due to our current lifestyles. Making a targeted step count to increase how much we walk in a day is a great public service message. He notes that 10,000 steps are not a magic number but a round figure, and that anything between 6,000 to 10,000 steps a day would be beneficial. “Spend 30 to 40 minutes brisk waling at an increased intensity to up the benefits.” Dr Contractor highlights why power walking is a great
>> Apart from cardiovascular benefits, it exercises the muscles and lower limb bones since it is a weight-bearing exercise.
>> Brisk walking helps manage blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and even your mood.
>> It can counter lifestyle-related diseases such as heart stroke and diabetes.
Ira Trivedi, fitness expert, celebrity influencer and founder of Yog Love, shares tips to power walk correctly, highlighting mindfulness in all aspects of the exercise.
>> Avoid talking while walking. Instead, focus on your breathing, and control it with paced breaths.
>> Place your weight equally on your foot and step fully from heel to toe to feel the entire placement of the foot on the ground
>> Don’t stroll, and ensure that your pace is fast.