In 1976 George Meegan retired from the Merchant Navy and went for a walk. He started on the southern tip of South America and after 19,019 miles, 2426 days, and 41 million steps, he reached the northernmost point of Alaska. He averaged almost 17,000 steps per day. Did he overdo it?
We’ve all heard that walking 10,000 steps a day is the key to a healthy life, but is it a myth? Perhaps. The truth is, there is no magic number when it comes to steps. The idea of 10,000 steps first arose in a marketing campaign by a Japanese pedometer manufacturer in the 1960’s. It was a round number and sounded like a good challenge. The number stuck.
However, a recent study published in The Lancet found that in those over 60, walking only 6000-8000 steps per day, regardless of pace, is associated with a reduced risk of death, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions such as diabetes. For those under 60 the necessary steps to see similar benefits were 8000-10000.
As the graph below illustrates there are enormous benefits to being less sedentary.
Yet while regular walking is beneficial in helping ward off chronic disease and improving longevity, on its own, it may still not be enough to support optimal healthy ageing. As we’ve covered previously, both our strength of movement and speed of movement decline with age, beginning as early as our 40’s.
Strength training helps to build and preserve muscle mass, improve mobility and prevent falls. It can also boost bone density which is important for helping prevent osteoporosis and fractures.
Speed training on the other hand, helps us improve our overall reaction time, coordination and balance. These skills are crucial for maintaining our independence as we age. By incorporating some strength work (push, pull or lift things you find challenging) and speed training (e.g. running, quick step ups, skipping) into our weekly fitness routines we will improve our physical capacity and mitigate age-related declines.