150 used to be the magic number in the fitness realm. The equation was easy: get 150 minutes of exercise per week (usually five, 30 minute sessions of brisk walking) and you would help reduce adverse health outcomes.
Not only was this the minimum amount of exercise needed to be healthy, but very rarely did people actually meet this goal. According to research, less than half of Americans reach that coveted 150 minutes per week, with 33% not engaging in any physical activity at all, and the rest falling somewhere in between, moving a little but not enough.
But this magic rule had a major flaw. Take for example two people: one person exercised 150 minutes per week and also walked to the bus stop, took the stairs at work, and ran around after their kids in the evenings, while the other person exercised 150 minutes and sat in a car to commute to work, sat at a desk hunched over a computer screen, and sat on the couch watching television in the evenings. Both of these people met that 150 number, but they had different levels of overall activity.
Researchers began to become hip to this idea and soon realized a major flaw in their calculations. While doing 150 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity per week does protect you from some pretty serious adverse health events and conditions – and as mentioned before many people are not hitting this amount – if you are not moving the rest of the time you are still at risk for a lot of bad things. And if you’re not exercising or moving during the day? Bad news: you are at risk from lack of exercise AND lack of movement.
What are you at risk of from this lack of movement? So glad you asked. Those who spend the majority of their waking hours sedentary (sitting or lying down and essentially inactive) are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon, ovarian, and endometrial cancers, and all cause mortality.
Researchers began to separate out traditional exercise or physical activity from movement in general and the 10,000 step goal was born. The idea was to give people a specific measure (similar to the 150 minute goal) to work towards with 10,000 steps equating with an active lifestyle, 7,500 steps comparable to being slightly active, and 5,000 or less considered sedentary. This measure obviously varies according to your stride length as generally someone who is shorter will take more steps in a given distance than someone who is taller.
But let’s not get bogged down with the numbers. What is the point of all of this new information? Should I not aim to hit that 150 minutes of exercise mark? Should I focus on step count instead? Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater folks. There is still great utility in having a 150 minute goal per week of moderate intensity physical activity (anything at the brisk walking pace), especially now that research has shown we can break those 150 minutes down into 10 minute chunks and still be as effective. And I don’t care who you are, everyone has a few 10 minute moments in their day; whether you choose to use that time to go for a walk, take the stairs, or hop on the exercise bike is a post for another day. But we also need to be aware of our sedentary behaviors, some of which, such as our workplace, that we may not have as much control over, while others, like evening or weekend activities, that we do.
Now you don’t need to run out and buy a Fitbit or any type of step counting device (I have one to keep me on track, but it is by no means necessary, not even a little bit) to track your 10,000 steps, but you should take some time to examine your routine and see where you can add in steps. A few steps here and there add up over time and don’t feel as if they are taking extra time out of your day. What are some ways you can add in steps to your day? Take the stairs? Set up a family walk after dinner? Take your dog out more? Bring your groceries in one bag at a time? The list is endless.
Get creative and challenge yourself every day to look for new ways to add in more movement. What about standing up right now and doing a little lap around the house? You may not be able to change how you commute to work or how many hours you are tied to your desk, and you may not be willing to give up your evenings on the couch unwinding, but I guarantee you there are small ways to make a big impact in your life. Again, this is not a substitute for that 150 minutes, it is a complement to it.
What will your first step be?
I’d love to hear the creative ways you’ve found to add more movement to your life. Comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to my email newsletter if you haven’t already to get access to free resources such as a great habit tracking log you can use to monitor your progress towards moving more!
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Dr. Jessica is a psychologist (supervised practice), author, and trainer who is dedicated to bringing science-driven advice and information to everyone.