Stepping your way to health

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 October, 2008, 12:00am

Most people might not think of it as real exercise, but simply doing enough walking every day can keep you in good health

The health benefits of regular exercise can't be over-emphasised, and there's convincing scientific evidence physical activity protects against long-lasting diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

Researchers at the University of Missouri carried out two different studies in Copenhagen, Denmark. In the first study, volunteers were asked to reduce the number of steps they took each day from 6,000 to 1,400 for three weeks. So instead of walking or taking the stairs, these volunteers were asked to use a car or take the lift wherever possible.

Volunteers who usually walked 10,000 steps a day were asked in a second study to reduce the number of steps they took to 1,400 for two weeks. At the end of the each study period, the participants were given a glucose and/fat tolerance test. This measures how fast the body is able to clear either glucose (sugar) or fat from the blood.

The longer it takes to clear these substances the higher the chances a person has of developing diabetes or other chronic illnesses.

The researchers concluded it was dangerous to be inactive even for just a couple of weeks.

So how much exercise should we be doing?

Expert groups, such as the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend teens get at least an hour of exercise every day, and in addition spend no more than two hours a day using electronic media for entertainment.

Besides getting involved in team sports, such as football, hockey, netball and basketball, or activities like aerobics or running, walking more often every day can help to improve health and wellbeing. Plus, it's free and also helps to create a more sustainable environment.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it takes almost twice as long to take the lift when going up or going down one floor instead of walking.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina in the US recorded the time taken to go up or down one floor by taking the stairs and by the lift over several days.

A group of volunteers were told to alternate between lift and stairs and to take the stairs at their usual pace during the course of their daily routine.

The study found that the time needed to take the lift was significantly greater than the time required to use the stairs going both up and down one floor.

The excess time needed when taking the lift was due to the waiting time and not the travelling time. That's one good reason then to climb the stairs instead of waiting for the lift.

How much walking do we need to do?

Shape Up America! has estimated an adult needs to walk 10,000 steps (roughly equivalent to 8km) before they can meet the US Surgeon General's recommendation to accumulate 30 minutes of activity into their everyday lives.

A joint study involving researchers from the US, Australia, Canada, France and Sweden has established preliminary guidelines for how many steps per day people should accumulate to keep their weight under control.

One thing that might help is buying a pedometer - a small, cheap device that counts the number of steps you walk per day. Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have found people who use pedometers tend to end up doing a lot more physical activity.

The researchers reviewed more than 2,000 articles that looked at the effects of pedometers and physical activity and found that those who used them managed to increase their exercise levels by 2,000 steps or about a 1.6km of walking a day.

Steps per day

A collaborative study involving researchers from the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, and Sweden has established preliminary guidelines for how many steps per day people should accumulate to keep their weight under control.

Reference: Journal of Physical Activity and Health 2008 (5) Supplement 1, S126-139