Whether you’re already committed to a daily walk or looking to get started, when it comes to being fit and healthy, we’re often reminded to aim to walk 10,000 steps per day.
But what are the benefits if you start out more modestly?
It turns, out that according to a recent study, they are significant. The health benefits of walking can be achieved through maintaining a certain frequency, taking a specific number of steps each day, and increasing the intensity of your daily walk. Research published in the JAMA Neurology and JAMA Internal Medicine late last year found that for every 2,000 steps, the risk of heart disease, cancer, and premature death can decrease by 10 percent, peaking at 10,000 steps each day.
Michelle Champlin, Chief Podiatrist of Dubai Podiatry Centre said: “Walking is such a simple way to stay active and healthy. The heart and lungs pump oxygenated blood around the body and this significantly increases when we walk. The calf muscles in our legs demand oxygenated blood from the heart and lungs while walking, so this demand for blood also helps other organs function better. The longer we walk, the better the blood flow for the entire body.’’
The report also revealed how walking at a faster pace, or upping the intensity of your walk, such as power walking, was found to have health benefits too. Brisk walkers, who do between 80-100 steps per minute, had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer, and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.
“Whether you are walking for health, fitness or even weight loss, the pace of your walk will be determined by individual capabilities,” said Champion. “For example, a brisk walking pace can range from 10 to 15 minutes per kilometer, or from 5km/hr to 7.5km/hr. At this pace, breathing should be noticeably harder, but you should still be able to speak in full sentences. If your cardiovascular is at a good level, then a 15-minute pace might be considered a light-intensity exercise. It may take only 10 minutes to walk one kilometer at a quicker pace.’’
‘‘It’s important to track progress,’’ she says. ‘‘Look at the time when you start your walk. When you get to the 1000-meter mark (1km) on the walking track, check the time again. This will tell you how many minutes it took you to walk 1km. As you get more accustomed to walking you may notice the same distance will take less time to complete, so you may want to increase the walking distance by 500-1000 meters. I recommend walking the same distance 5 times in a row before increasing the distance. This will allow the muscles and tendons to adjust to the added activity as well as the skin on the feet.’’
So, what does this mean for the UAE?
Taking 10,000 steps a day — roughly seven to eight kilometers, depending on a person’s stride — has become a common health and fitness goal, but many individuals in the UAE tend to lead sedentary lifestyles, making it a challenge for individuals to meet the daily recommended steps count. This is down to a higher number of desk jobs as well as urbanization and the infrastructure of some communities.
But there is hope. Inactive individuals can still take smaller steps towards good health, to gradually increase their step count. The recent research explains how fewer steps can still help towards decreasing health risks. For example, 9,800 steps can lower the risk of dementia by 50 percent and taking 3,800 steps a day lowers it by 25 percent.
‘‘Carving out time to walk for exercise can be limited but a few small tweaks to your social and family life can make a huge difference,” said Champion. “For example, next time you invite your friends over for a coffee, suggest ‘walking and talking’, as opposed to sitting and talking for an hour or so. Before you know it, you would have hit your daily step count without even realizing it — and you will find that your friends will take inspiration from you.
‘‘Try to include your family. Make yourself a good role model by going for a long, family walk before dinner. After a time, this will naturally become part of your daily family routine, and everyone will feel better for it.’’
She also recommends that people discover their local walks and implement longer walks on the weekend when they have more time.
‘‘Abu Dhabi and the UAE have taken the brilliant initiative to incorporate health and fitness areas into our neighborhoods for the health and wellbeing of all communities. We have a plethora of safe walking areas perfect for beginners, intermediate, and more advanced walkers. These visually beautiful and interesting walks are great ways to increase our step counts, such as the Abu Dhabi Corniche, Al Maryah Island, and Al Zahiyah to Yas Marina Circuit.’’
• With great walks just on our doorstep, the experts from Abu Dhabi 360, the new community-wide wellness program launched by Abu Dhabi Sports Council, are encouraging everyone in the emirate to walk at least 30 minutes per day and kickstart their journey towards whole-person wellness. Participants can look forward to several upcoming events, all of which will be available by downloading the Abu Dhabi 360 app.