In December of last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued new physical activity guidelines for Americans.
Most people are now aware that the “key physical activity guidelines” for adults recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity (equal in intensity to brisk walking) or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week and muscle and bone strengthening activities on two or more days per week (e.g. exercise bands, weight training).
Each of these types of physical activity are recommended in addition to your activities of normal daily living. The guidelines document offers the “talk test” as a way of determining the intensity of your exercise.
When you’re being active, just try talking: If you’re breathing hard but can still have a conversation easily, it’s moderate-intensity activity, and if you can only say a few words before you have to take a breath, it’s vigorous-intensity activity.
Research indicates that as exercise intensity increases, enjoyment decreases for many people. For this reason, for most people regular moderate-intensity activity is the preferred option.
Research also suggests that self-monitoring (keeping track of what you do) helps you to adhere to your activity goals. Wearing a pedometer, wearing a smart watch or tracking steps with your smart phone are ways to self-monitor moderate-intensity activity.
But how many steps should I take each day? Most people have heard 10,000 steps per day is a goal, but it assumes that “one size fits all” when it comes to setting step goals. The new guidelines include several steps that will help you personalize your step goals.
Step 1. Using your step counting device, determine your typical daily step count on days when you do no added bouts of walking. This is best done over several days.
Step 2. Using the same step counter, measure the number of steps taken in a 10-minute walk using your typical walking speed. If you take 1,000 steps during the 10-minute walk, you can use the 1000 step amount to help you set your step goal.
Step 3. As a beginning point, set your daily step goal by adding your typical steps per day (see Step 1) and steps required for walking 10 minutes (see Step 2). For example, if your typical daily step count is 5000, you would add 1,000 steps. Your starting goal would be to take 6,000 steps a day.
Step 4. Add steps each week. A step count of 7,000 steps a day would equal 20 minutes and a step count of 8,000 would equal 30 minutes of walking in addition to typical activity each day.
It is important to note that many people take more or less than the 5,000 steps in typical daily activity. Also, some people take more or less than 1,000 steps when walking. Using the steps to determine your typical activity and your steps per 10 minutes of walking will help you set personalized goals.
Starting progressively and gradually increasing activity is best. Step goals based on 150-300 steps per week are good for achieving optimal health goals while increasing adherence to your exercise plan. Those who do not plan to be active seven days per week will need to add steps per day to achieve weekly step goals (compared to those who exercise daily).
The authors of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines make it clear that “something is better than nothing.” Every step counts.
When you start your walking plan and establish your step goals, be careful not to set goals too high. Finding a goal that you will adhere to is critical. If your goal makes your exercise seem too difficult, reset your goals.
-Chuck Corbin is an ASU professor emeritus and 30-year resident of Ahwatukee.