The number of steps a person takes each day has been found to correlate with multiple aspects of our health. With the popularity of health trackers, we can more easily keep ourselves in check with this. Activity levels with regards to steps is broken down as follows; Inactive status is defined as taking less than 5,000 steps per day. Active status is taking between 7,500 and 9,999 steps per day. Very active is defined as more than 12,500 steps per day.
What are the specific benefits of having enough steps each day?
Being active and taking enough steps each day helps to make your heart stronger. As you walk more, your body demands more blood flow to your vital organs and extremities. This means that you heart gets stronger to meet these increased demands. When you are hitting enough steps each day, your heart will become more efficient over time and have a larger stroke volume. If you heart is more efficient and pumping more blood per beat, your heart rate can slow down more.
Because your heart is now more efficient, blood pressure decreases. The blood vessels are less stiff when you are active on a regular basis. This translates to lower resistance that your heart has to fight to provide blood flow to all the parts of your body and means that the pressure will be lower.
Peripheral Vascular Benefits
In addition to your heart getting stronger, activity increases demand for oxygen and nutrients to be delivered by your blood vessels to your legs, feet and arms/hands. Your body will actually create new avenues to provide blood flow to the muscles that you are using during activity and this improves blood flow. In adults who experience peripheral vascular disease, their blood vessels are not providing ample blood flow to the muscles, skin and other tissues and in extreme cases this can lead to death of the tissue called gangrene. When caught early, insufficiencies in bloodflow in the legs is treated with a dose of increased activity. By walking more, your body will create new blood vessels in order to get the oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues in the extremities.
Your lungs will require more oxygen to get into the blood stream with activity. When you increase your activity, your lungs work more and become more efficient. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, you will likely notice some difficulty in your breathing early in beginning new exercise. As long as you progress slowly, this is OK and you will find over weeks and months that you are able to tolerate activity better and that your breathing improves as well.
Regulation of blood sugars
Whether you are one of the 34.2 million americans who diabetes in America, the rising number of cases should have you asking what you can do to avoid becoming one of these statics. Simply making time to stay active and go for walks helps your body to better manage blood sugar levels. As with our hearts, our body is better able to break down and process sugars if we are active and using these sugars for fuel during activity.
Less Body Fat Stores
When staying active, especially with walking, your body needs to use multiple fuel sources that are available. Carbohydrates and sugars are more quickly broken down, so these are the more essential source of energy for faster activities such as running. Because using fat for energy is a longer process, walking actually helps to break down fat better. Of course, cardiovascular exercise like running or biking, when your heart rate is increased also has the side effect of increasing muscle mass which in turn increases fat burning capabilities. So all in all, a mix of intensities of activities is optimal.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is true. The more you demand of your body, it will step up to those demands. That being said, it is always key to proceed cautiously and increase activity at a rate that your body can keep up with. When you are a teenager, you are far less likely to have injuries and your body recovers better. This means that increasing activity when you are younger doesn’t usually have to go at as slow of a pace. As we get older, it takes more time for our bodies to recover and build strength. When you are active, the bones in your body experience stress from both the ground reactive forces of impact with each step you take and also experience strain from where the ligaments and tendons attach to the bones. Bone builds under compression and tension, so being active helps to increase strength of your bones as you require more of them. This means that (as long as you do it smart) your bones are less likely to experience fractures and stress fractures. In our latter years this is critically important, so the sooner you make activity a habit, the better.
Using your muscles will stave off atrophy or weakening. The more you are active, the stronger your muscles will be. This also has an impact on how well balanced you are and decreases the risk of falls as you get older. Being stronger means you can hold onto your independence longer. And if you aren’t at a point in your life to consider the days when you are older, muscles being stronger means you can experience more. You can vacation and hike and see sites with less effort.
The more we are active, the more we can stay loose. Our joints tend to lose lubricating fluid over our years. If we stay more active, there is less loss of this fluid and the joints can more freely continue to move. In addition, if our heart is providing ample blood flow to muscles and tendons, they will be more pliable and less likely to become injured or torn. Stretching helps too.
That’s right – the increase in activity will also translate to better brain health. Moderate daily activity has been shown to stave off cognitive decline and help grow new brain cells. Your brain is more able to reorganize, repair and adapt to new situations when you are more active. A study in the journal of physiology has demonstrated the promising benefit of growing cells in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that regulates emotion and memory. If you go for a walk to just think, this is probably why you feel so much better when you get back home!
Physical activity increases the release of endorphins which are our ‘feel good’ hormones. This helps improve your cognitive function. Stress levels decrease with physical activity and you will even find that in your better mental state, you are more productive, you can concentrate better and your creativity will flourish.
Be more Golden in your Golden Years
Making it a habit to get your 10,000 steps per day means that you will likely carry this habit in the years to come. The benefits keep coming and your body becomes reliant on this stimulation – which is a good thing. Think about if you have gone through phases of increased activity or if you had the habit of running for several months and then something happened that made that activity less of a priority. You feel grumpy, you feel tired, you have stomach aches more often. You soon find out what happens in the absence of exercise and it helps you to see all the benefits that had come from activity.
Steady progression is Key
There are some important things to consider, now that you are ramped up about getting out and active. The last thing anyone wants is to have a setback along the course of trying to improve your health. The key here is to take it slow and steady to start. If you are coming out of a long winter and a long pandemic and you have not been getting out much, don’t demand too much of your body too soon. Our heart, lungs, tendons and bones all need to slowly get used to the increased demand. If you haven’t been out much at all, start with walking. Walking is less impact and if you increase a little throughout the weeks, you are less likely to suffer stress fractures, tendinitis or plantar fasciitis. If you have been walking but are seeking to start getting some of those steps in with running, start with a slower speed, ensure there is minimal incline/hills, and maybe start with a jog/walk pattern to help start getting your heart back in shape.
Of course, you need to make sure that when you ask more of your body that you give back what your body needs. This starts with diet. Making sure you intake enough water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins will give your body what it needs to repair after each session of exercise or walking. Being well hydrated helps to reduce the risk of injuries to both bone and soft tissues.
Shoes of course!
Wearing the correct shoes will not only support your feet, but will provide shock absorption to your entire body to reduce pain and injuries. Whether you are walking or running or weight training, make sure you have a pair of shoes that is supportive and isn’t ancient.
In the journey to 10,000 steps and more you may experience a bump in the road here or there. If you have generalized soreness that subsides within a few days, that is normal. If, however, you have pain that is limiting your ability to walk without limping or of course if you take a misstep, that is not normal. Don’t delay an evaluation if you experience difficulties along the way. We are here to help you reach your goal. Whether you want to get 10,000 steps per day or you are just trying to hit 5,000 because it’s been an inactive year, we want to help you get there. Use the resources on our website to help optimize your chances of success and work towards getting those steps in for the sake of your mental and physical health!