It’s no secret that most Americans don’t get enough exercise. This lack of physical activity can have negative consequences for anyone, but for people with diabetes — Type 1 or Type 2 — exercise is particularly important, since it helps the body use insulin (either the body’s own, or injected insulin) more efficiently. But how much exercise is enough? That question has always been more difficult to answer than whether people get enough of it.
For years, popular wisdom has held that walking 10,000 steps each day is a good exercise goal for most people. But as a New York magazine article from earlier this month explains, that number isn’t based on any scientific studies that found it to be optimal. In fact, it caught on because of how one of the first mass-market pedometers — the Japanese man-po-kei — was marketed in the 1960s. Its name translates roughly to “10,000-step meter” and was chosen both because it sounds catchy in Japanese, and because the number 10,000 is considered meaningful in Japanese culture. The pedometer became a huge success around the time of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
As the article points out, not only was the number 10,000 chosen for commercial rather than scientific reasons, but the lifestyle it was meant to apply to was very different from that of the United States in 2015. The average Japanese in 1964 was supplied with 2,632 calories each day, while the average American in 2011 was supplied with 3,639. That difference — about 1,000 calories — would take about 20,000 steps for an averge-sized person to burn.
So how many steps should you take each day? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer — it depends on how healthy you are, how much you eat, and a number of other factors. But experts quoted in the article agree that, as a general rule, more is better. Chances are, you’ll be healthier if you get more exercise than you do right now.
There’s danger, however, in setting your exercise goals too high. As we noted in a 2011 post on short bouts of exercise, setting overly ambitious exercise goals can make people feel intimidated and lead them to exercise less than if they took a more flexible approach. For many people, the best exercise goal is simply to move or work out whenever possible. For others, however, a more concrete goal — a certain number of steps, or a certain amount of time set aside for exercises — is necessary to provide the structure and motivation for exercise.
How do you feel about setting walking or exercise goals — do specific or ambitious goals motivate or intimidate you? Do you find it more helpful to set a schedule-based goal, such as walking at a certain time every day, than to set an accomplishment-based goal, such as taking 10,000 steps? Have you ever adjusted your exercise routine based on health-based goals, such as lowering your HbA1c level or reducing your blood pressure? Leave a comment below!