Sunday, December 20, 2015

Let’s talk 10,000

Many of you already have “wearable technology” like Fitbits and Jawbones and some using smartphone based apps to track your activity.  Another WHOLE LOTTA people have asked for and will get these devices for Xmas with the goal of helping them get fitter and in shape.  So many of us will be using these devices to help us with our New Year’s resolutions and goals.

I wanted to talk about these devices and maybe get some perspective on how they can help your progress but also fool you into a false belief of your achievements.

So before I piss all over your Cheerios, let me first say that these devices are wonderful for many reasons.  They are a constant reminder that you need to be active and move around in order to improve your health.  If you work a desk job, it is too easy to look at the clock and realize that it is 2:15 PM and you’ve only moved from your desk twice to pee the whole day. 

And it can be fun to join a community of people who have the same devices and join challenges and meet new “friends”.  If you have kids and they wear a device it can also be a HUGE motivator – they have a new video game that they want to play?  Ok, once they hit their “steps” they can have at it.  Plus kids love technology and wearing something that challenges them can become a game of sorts.

Most of all – any activity is good activity!!  So whatever encourages a person to move more than they are currently moving is a fantastic thing!!!  In that way, wearing any of these devices – if that gets someone off their ass and moving around, it is more than worth the money spent!

Ok, now let the promised pissing begin.  First let’s look at the origin of that magical number of 10,000 steps that has become the “gold standard” for movement.  I’ll bet many of you thought that this number derived from some well-funded government study.  Well, you would be wrong.  In the 60’s a Japanese inventor made a pedometer and called it (roughly translated) the 10,000 step meter.  It became a fad in Japan – like a game - to hit the 10,000 steps.  Later, experts studied people and found – shock of all shocks – that people who were hitting these 10,000 steps had lost weight.  So this magical number has stayed with us. 

How far is 10,000 steps?  For the average person, it’s walking about 5 miles a day.  For shorties like me, it’s only 4.  Is that far?  Not even slightly.  That’s about 500 calories worth of burn a day.  And that can easily be negated with a trip to Starbucks for a speciality drink.

For weight loss, hitting 10,000 steps barely makes a dent.  Back in the 60’s when that number was invented, the avaerage American ate about 2,200 calories per day.  Now?  Experts estimate the average woman eats about 3,700 calories per day and the average man 4,000.  So you either have to basically double your steps or drastically cut your calorie intake to even start to make a dent.

Since most people who are embarking on a weight loss/fitness journey are indeed cutting calories, this will certainly help in the weight loss arena.  But how about fitness?

You know how we’ve talked about before that a calorie is not necessarily a calorie?  Well, a step is not just a step either.  Is is the quality of your steps in addition to quantity.

Marc and I have a friend who works a retail job and often boasts about hitting 12,000 steps while working.  Again, let me stress any activity is good activity.  But, having said that – meandering around and getting your steps in is NOT the same as getting in a good aerobic workout.

So simply getting in 10,000 steps by walking around is not sufficient to make a significant increase in your fitness level.

To accomplish that, you need to engage in activity that significantly increases your heart rate for at least 30 minutes.  That means  a challenging aerobic activity.  That can mean walking.  But it means walking quickly and purposely or challenging yourself by walking up stairs – not just lesiurely walking around and getting steps in.

And walking alone is not going to greatly increase your overall fitness level.  In addition to increasing your lung capacity and heart strength with an intense aerobic session you need exercise that will build your muscle and bone strength.  This mean higher impact exercising like running and doing workouts where you jump and put a good kind of stress on your bones and joints and muscles.

You also need to increase your muscle mass by doing activities that grow muscle – like lifting weights and doing challenging body weight exercises.  This does NOT mean that you have to become a body builder.  However, if you have 30 minutes to exercise you should be spending some of those days getting in muscle building exercises.  If you do 30 minutes of squats, lunges and push-ups, you might sacrifice hitting those precious 10,000 steps for a day, but you’ve greatly increased your fitness level and will burn MORE CALORIES when you stop moving then you will from even a brisk walk.

On the other side of the coin you have people who easily hit their 10,000 steps and then think that they can just relax the rest of the day.  That’s not healthy either.

Runners can be especially guilty of this.  They wake up on a Sunday morning, go for a 7 mile run (approximately 14,000 steps) and then spend the rest of the day sitting on the couch.  Even for people that do intense workouts, inactivity is bad!  If it takes you just over an hour to run 7 miles and then you barely move for the next 23?  That’s not healthy!

So find that balance.  This wearable fitness technology is fantastic as a reminder to keep yourself moving.  But remember that 10,000 is pretty much an arbitrary number and should be a small part of your eating and fitness routine – not the solitary goal! 


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