The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends walking as a great way to get enough activity to reap the health benefits as we age. Why walking? One, it does not require any great skill nor does it require any equipment (other than a good pair of walking shoes) or a health club membership. And it is something that you are already doing every day. The only question is whether you are walking enough to derive the benefits of decreasing your risk for chronic diseases often associated with ageing such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
First, you have to measure your steps each day using a Fitbit or some other device. Ideally, it has a way to upload the steps data to your internet account that can analyse your achievements over a period of time. Some even allow friends to see and encourage each others to achieve their step goals. Anything that is worth doing is worth measuring. Studies have shown than most people tend to overestimate their level of physical activity or the number of steps they think they are doing until they start to measure. In fact, many Fitbit users will tell you that they are more motivated when they measure their steps daily. Since your step count resets at midnight to zero, the step tracker tends to motivate you to complete your goal each day. And many do feel unhappy when they do not meet their daily goal!
For most seniors, a moderate comfortable pace of walking is about 100 steps per minute – but of course you can always pick up the pace. So where do you stand? Here is a rough guide.*
- Walking level of less than 5000 steps per day is considered a sedentary lifestyle which is often associated with increased risk of several chronic diseases associated with ageing.
- If you are walking 5000-7499 steps, that would put you in the “low active” category. While this is better than sedentary, you will not likely reap the health benefits associated with exercise yet.
- From 7500-9,999 steps, you are in the sweet spot. In this range, you will start to accrue the health benefits of moderate exercise and decreasing your risk for various chronic diseases.
- What most trackers want you to achieve is 10,000 steps each day, which for a moderate strolling pace, will take about 1.5-1.7 hours and cover approximately 6 km. For most who can manage, this is a good target to achieve. You may need to work your way up to that level over several months.
- Anything above 12,500 steps per day, you are in the highly active range. There is no reason not to walk more steps if you are able to at that level. But this is not an easy target to set on a consistent basis.
Fortunately, walking in Singapore is safe, easy and accessible. Most HDB estates have footpaths that are well located and comfortable to walk anytime of the day or night (except for the occasional e-bikes and e-scooters). If you are motivated, go to a park. Most of the parks are great for walking – my favorites are Labrador Park, West Coast Park, Botanical and Chinese/Japanese Gardens. If you are thinking about starting an exercise regime, consider the humble act of just walking more … but do not forget to get your step tracker first. Daily measurement is a big motivator!
*Ref: “Evidence Behind 10,000 Steps Walking”, Journal of Health Research, Vol. 31 No. 3 (June 2017)