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Physical Activity

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Physical Activity

10,000 steps - the benefits of walking

Did you know?

To lose 500g you need to use up 14,700kJ – in just one week of walking 10,000 steps each day, you will burn 500g of body fat.

News in a hurry 

  • is low-impact, safe, simple and free
  • improves cardiovascular fitness (lowers blood pressure, cuts cholesterol)
  • burns kilojoules, helping you lose weight
  • is great for your mental health
  • prepares you for other sports and exercise
  • strengthens your back muscles and bones
  • slims your waist and shapes your legs
  • reduces risk of diabetes and colon cancer
  • provides opportunities to be with friends and family and pets!
Get started
  • aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days
  • buy a pedometer and build up to 10,000 steps a day
Do it for life!
“The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk” ~ Jacqueline Schiff

Since early times, when our nomadic ancestors ranged the land following the seasons and the food supply, walking has formed an important part of our lives. Today, it offers us a cheap way to get, and keep, fit and is one of the easiest activities to build into our daily routines.

Although most of us find ourselves on our feet at some point during the day, research shows we don’t walk as much as we used to. In fact, the UK Government has calculated the number of miles walked since the mid-1980s has fallen by more than 20%. Increasingly in New Zealand, jobs have become office-based, with long spells spent sitting at desks or round the boardroom table.

And once we’ve travelled home in the comfort of our cars, the bus or train, we can rely on labour saving devices to give us more time to put our feet up. Then our favourite computer games and TV shows are just a click away, ready to keep us glued to our sofa or chair for the rest of the evening. The problem is, our decrease in activity is now actually damaging our health, with physical inactivity coming third only to smoking as a modifiable risk factor for poor health. It is also estimated to account for more than 2,600 deaths per year.

How walking can help keep us well

Walking is gentle and low-impact and it's one of your body's most natural forms of exercise. It's safe, simple, all fully able-bodied people know how to do it, and the health benefits are numerous. By walking regularly we can improve the condition of our heart and lungs (cardiovascular fitness), work the muscles of the lower body, and probably improve our bone density – very important in the battle against osteoporosis.

It’s also great for our mental health. While anything that gets you moving physically is likely to increase your ‘feel good’ factor, according to depression studies some activities help more than others. Aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, running and cycling or resistance training (lifting weights in a gym), seems to provide the greatest benefits.

Read more about the benefits of regular exercise.

Aim for 30 minutes most days, then build up

The Ministry of Health recommends we aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days of the week. New Zealand guidelines define moderate intensity activity as anything causing a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate.

Brisk walking offers an easy and economical way to meet those guidelines but if you haven’t been physically active for a while, 30 minutes exercise most days of the week might be quite a challenge. So take your time, avoid injury or soreness, and slowly increase your activity levels.

  • Starting off walking for 20 to 30 minutes, 4 days a week at a comfortable pace.
  • Then alternate 2 to 5 minutes of brisk walking with 2 to 5 minutes of easy walking, gradually increasing the ratio of brisk to easy. Remember, walking up hills expends more energy - even walking down again uses more energy than walking on the flat.
  • When you’ve built up your fitness, consider forming a regular walking group, or joining a tramping club. Both can be great motivators and keep you coming back for more. 

Measure the intensity of your workout

Knowing your level allows you to work out whether you should be doing more, or slow down the pace. Try using one of the following methods:

Talk test. If you're so out of breath that you can't carry on a conversation with the person you're walking with, you're probably walking too fast and should slow down.

Borg scale. This self-assessment method requires you to rate how hard you think you are working on a scale from 6 (no exertion) to 20 (maximum effort). Aim for at least moderate intensity (12 to 14) as you walk.

Monitor your heart rate (pulse). Stop exercising to check your pulse manually at your wrist or neck. Another option is to wear an electronic device that displays your heart rate.

Keep track of your progress

Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes, allows you to work out how many miles you've walked each week, month or year. Try using a pedometer to count your steps.

Take 10,000 steps a day

To help people become more active, many countries have issued an ideal target of 10,000 steps per day. When you have reached this goal you are much more able to try other sports and activities. If the average person’s stride length is around 75cm long, that means it takes just over 1,330 steps to walk 1km, and 10,000 steps is close to 7.5kms. A sedentary person may only average 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day. For these people adding steps has many health benefits.

Burn off those kilojoules!

You'll burn 2,100kJ for every 10,000 steps you take – that’s heaps! To lose 500g you need to use up 14,700kJ – so in just one week of walking 10,000 steps each day, you will burn 500g of body fat. 

How do I know how many steps I'm taking?

Wearing a pedometer clipped to your clothes is an easy way to track your steps each day. You only need a simple, inexpensive pedometer (about $10-50, or try TradeMe, but check it still works first) that counts your steps; around the house, the office, to school or the dairy. You might find that you walk almost 10,000 steps a day, or that you walk less than you think. Whatever your results, you now have an invaluable tool to help motivate you.

One foot in front of the other!

Inactive people won’t be walking anywhere near 10,000 steps a day – so don’t expect to get there on day one. Clip on your pedometer, start slowly and build up from the list of activities in the table.

  • Go to bed one hour earlier, get up one hour earlier and go for a walk!
  • Walk to the dairy or to a café for your morning coffee.
  • Sweep the driveway or clean the car.
  • Buy a skipping rope - and use it!
  • Walk or bike the kids to school.
  • Get the dog off the porch and treat him to a stroll.
  • Get off the bus one stop early.
  • Take the stairs, not the elevator.
  • Walk up the escalator.
  • Park further away from your destination .
  • Do some gardening and mow your own lawns!
  • Ditch your cleaner and polish your own windows!
  • Find a friend to walk with.
  • Plug in your iPod and vacuum the house.
  • When on holiday, make a point of visiting places by foot and do lots of window shopping!  

Support for reaching 10,000 steps every day

There are several websites offering advice and support for 10,000 steps programmes, including one that falls under the umbrella of the Northland Sport and Physical Activity Strategy. 10,000 Steps Northland creates bi-monthly virtual challenges to help you keep motivated and each challenge has varying distances so everyone can join in, whatever their ability.

Never give up!

Don’t think you can walk a bit to get fit then just give it up – walking is something we should do all our lives to keep us healthy, in good shape and mentally fit. Research suggests it takes 6 months of repeating an activity to make that activity a habit. After that time you should feel walking is just part of your normal daily routine and you will even look forward to it and miss it if you can’t get out or are injured.

Additional information

Wonder Walkers

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