A 10,000-step journey

Most fitness experts agree that walking 10,000 steps a day is a healthy habit, but relying on this one mantra will not make one fit

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By Simran Sodhi

Published: Sat 6 Nov 2021, 10:05 PM

If there is one way in which my generation — and the subsequent ones — is different from our parents it is the slight hesitation with which we consume food. A delicious scoop of ice-cream also comes with an in-built warning in the brain that one scoop is where I need to sign off.

We are bombarded on a daily basis with a mixture of images and articles, what to eat and what not to eat, to do cardio or to run every day or walk 10,000 steps a day. Jingles of cooking oil come with reminders of a healthy heart and the need to eat this, that and the other to stay fit, look good and enjoy good health. Images of super fit film stars don’t really help; they lead one straight on to a guilt-fuelled highway.

So, for most of us ordinary folks, what is it that would be easy to maintain as a fitness schedule and yet be effective were the two questions I needed answers to. My personal schedule has always consisted of long walks and keeping a watchful eye on diet (sticking to the basic thumb rule: on most days, simple home-cooked food is better than eating out).

But there were others who nudged that it was time to add cardio and weights, and that was food for thought!

A family that is ‘in step’ together

For Rachelle Fatani, a working mother who lives in London, the 10,000 steps-a-day routine is something that has worked very well not just for herself but also for her husband and kids. “Yes, I have done and continue to do 10,000 steps per day. In fact, during lockdown last year, my husband, children and I did 20,000 steps per day. We are a fit family anyway and also walk our dog every day,” says Rachelle.

But then she complements the steps routine with playing other sports and also cooking at home to ensure that her family (other than getting to exercise) also eats healthy. “I play tennis three times a week,” she says. While she confesses to not following any particular diet, she emphasises the importance of home-cooked food. “I don’t follow a diet. I try to eat healthy, home-cooked meals but I still love my chocolate!”

Rachelle points out that in her circle of friends, there are many who have “Apple watches and Fitbits — but none [that I am aware of] are trying to walk 10,000 steps per day.” Which may be slightly off since, today, as individuals and as members of a community we are more aware of the relationship between eating healthy and exercising, “Especially if you are working from home, you have to ensure you get out and get fresh air and exercise.”

There has always been this great debate about what works best for us in terms of exercise. But with the passage of time, it does seem that the debate on eating home-cooked food versus eating out has narrowed down considerably. More and more celebrities have endorsed the goodness of simple home-cooked meals. Outings with friends and relatives, with who eating out is a conscious and deliberate choice, are also being curtailed to about once a week. Bad news for restaurants but home cooking and mother’s food is back in fashion!

The 10k ‘fit’ mantra: walk, walk, walk, walk

Will Smith, one of Hollywood’s top stars, is one of the many who felt that the pandemic saw him sliding to one of his worst levels in terms of fitness. As he vowed to return to his pre-pandemic fitness levels, one of the things he has incorporated in his new regimen is the 10,000 steps a day routine. According to an article in Mensxp.com, Will Smith “ensures that he walks a minimum of 10,000 steps a day for better mobility. This helps him warm up and loosen up his body muscles that may have become rigid due to a long hiatus from exercising. He also prefers skipping rope over cardio over other forms of workout.” But it is important to note here that, for Smith, the 10,000-step routine is part of a larger set of daily exercises that he does to stay fit. Smith is into yoga, into dance to relive the pressure after intense workouts and also does weights regularly.

Many fitness experts also point out that the 10,000 daily steps routine can be traced back to a Japanese marketing campaign of the 1960s and was never a part of any medical research. According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, taking as little as 4,400 steps every day could lower your mortality risk by 41 per cent. This risk, reportedly, continued to decline until about 7,500 steps, when the mortality rate levelled off, notes a National Institutes of Health (NIH) — that is a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services — report.

So, it would seem that taking 7,500 to 8,000 steps a day would be the ideal as it would have roughly the same effect on your health as walking 10,000 steps a day. But, at the same time, it by no means implies that walking more or less than 7,500 steps daily is irrelevant.

More importantly, it would seem that the key here is to get moving. Walking 5,000 steps or 7,000 steps, or that magic number of 10,000 steps, daily would also ideally depend upon each person’s body type and, again, as many experts point out, there is no one-size-fits-all routine.

The connection between diet, exercise and general wellbeing

Deep Birring, who is a fitness expert based in the United Kingdom and also a global IT commercial director of Invicta software as well as a part-time actor, himself does the 10,000 steps daily routine but also cautions that this is not likely to help you reduce weight. “I most often do 10,000 steps a day. I also recommend 10,000-12,000 steps per day as this is ideally good for your whole body. However, it’s not something which will burn off a lot of fat,” Deep points out.

However, as a fitness expert, Deep feels our diet plays the most crucial part in our overall fitness and wellbeing. “To be fit, diet is the most important thing, ideally eating the right foods means you will burn off the fat and build muscle. Most people, especially women, think they will get bulky if they lift heavy weights which isn’t the case. Follow any routine as there are lots in the market, you don’t need an expert to tell you what to do. The most important thing, in my opinion, is what input you have with food,” he says.

Deep himself is very conscious and follows a strict diet. “I follow a diet plan ideally 95 per cent of the time. It is also really important for us not to start getting into the habit of having too much junk food. Even if there are festivals or celebrations, we need to stick to a plan,” he emphasises, even as he says that he has got all his friends to also follow the 10,000-steps-a-day routine. “They know the important reason for doing steps: it’s not only for the heart but the whole body.”

He also agrees that today we are more aware of the connection between diet, exercise and general wellbeing, “After almost 50 years I’ve made the connect with food intake to food you burn. You can’t outrun a bad diet! Once you know that, your eating habits change.”

For Bobby Paul, who works as an accountant in Dubai, fitness remains a combination of various factors. “It’s not a target-based workout which can make a difference, whether you run 10,000 steps or 20,000 steps. Fitness is always a combination of your food habits, stress management, cardio and agility exercises. All play an important role in fitness,” Bobby says.

He is committed to his fitness and does a 5K run every alternative day, does stretching exercises and makes it a point to eat the right proportion of a healthy diet. He follows no diet in particular, but avoids fried food and junk food and also tries to have a light dinner. He points out that people today realise that just walking 10,000 steps daily doesn’t work and that most are “aware that fitness can only be achieved by synergising all these components”.

For many, the pandemic proved to be a catalyst

As we grow more conscious of the need for our bodies to stay physically fit, we all seem to be making time out for our fitness schedules. Most fitness experts agree that walking 10,000 steps a day is a healthy habit and one must strive for that. But the caution here is that just relying on this one mantra will not make one fit. Diet, walking, some yoga or cardio — and then, depending on each person’s body type, it is important to adjust our daily schedules to make room for that exercise and for making the right choices on what to consume. The Covid-19 pandemic has made us even more acutely conscious of this need. Various studies, over these last two years, pointed out that obesity and other diseases made it harder for the body to fight the virus. It was a simple equation: those who were fitter had a better chance at fighting it off. If ever we all needed a wakeup call to get up and move, the pandemic has done that.

For Jyoti Ann Burrett, a personal trainer and a Nike certified coach/footballer who lives in New Delhi, fitness is a top priority. From her personal experience she says, “There have been times when I have aimed to do 10,000 steps a day. It wasn’t as challenging for me as my job as a personal trainer is quite a physical one and I also play a sport regularly. But it isn’t easy if you are a sedentary person or have a desk job. It makes you move. It makes you think about trying to walk more than you would. It makes you want to take the stairs. It makes you want to get out. It gives you an achievable target that helps push you to get up and get it done. Is it the holy grail of fitness? Not at all, but would I recommend it to anybody wanting to move around more in a day for sure.”

For her personal fitness regimen, Jyoti tries to get at least three strength training sessions every week and that is in addition to playing a sport or a high intensity workout twice a week. “I also try and stretch or do some yoga on the days that I am not training,” she says.

While she doesn’t follow any particular diet, she usually sticks to two meals a day. “I try and eat a balanced diet of carbs, protein and fats. There are days I indulge and there are days I eat healthy. My rule of thumb is to eat everything in moderation,” she explains.

Jyoti admits that walking 10,000 steps daily has “become quite an obsession and I have seen it drive people to be more active. I’ve seen people go out for a walk post dinner just to finish their steps” even though a lot of people find it quite difficult to do it every single day, especially with the pandemic and work from home being a norm.

A general awareness of this need to exercise and to stay fit, she agrees, is quite evident these days. “There is so much material that has educated people with respect to diet and exercise — and their impact on health. Not all may be factually backed but the general idea is that one must be active and eat healthy to feel healthy and fit. People are exposed to various forms of exercise that keeps them engaged. Health food and diet plans are readily available as well. It’s just a matter of choosing what you want to try now.”

And that probably is the way forward for all of us. Whatever our schedules and body types, the basic idea is to generally be more active, to push ourselves to walk a bit more and every time there is an option between taking the stairs and the lift, to opt for the former. And yes, most experts also thankfully agree that it is okay to indulge once in a while too — so the occasional chocolate can fit in to our schedules too!

(Simran Sodhi is a journalist and 
author based in New Delhi, India.)

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