by Poonam Sharma, Ph.D.
America's Problem with Weight
In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., published ďThe Surgeon Generalís Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.Ē This report identifies the numerous health gains in the U.S. over the last several decades: life expectancy has increased by 30 years; infant mortality rates are down; and people with infectious or chronic diseases are living longer. However, high rates of overweight and obesity threaten to undermine this success.
In 1999, it is estimated that 61% of the adult population and 13% of children and teens were overweight. Since 1980, obesity rates among adults have doubled and overweight rates for adolescents have tripled! About 300,000 annual deaths are related to problems with weight.
Besides our unhealthful diets (i.e., junk food and extremely large servings of high fat foods), inactivity is a major contributor to this health crisis. A 1996 U.S. Surgeon Generalís report on physical activity and health indicated that Americans of all ages are just not active enough. The Surgeon General recommends that we engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on a daily basis on top of our typical daily activities. Less than one-third of us actually meet this standard and one-quarter of the population does not engage in any exercise at all. Regular exercise is a crucial part of any long-term weight-management program and healthy lifestyle.
Recent thinking from health experts is more focused on increasing overall levels of activity in a more manageable way. The 10,000 steps program, developed over 40 years ago in Japan, aims to help us incorporate activity with minimal thought and planning.
Basically, all you do is buy a low-tech pedometer, clip it on at the beginning of the day, and start tracking how much you walk. In the course of a typical day, most of us will walk anywhere from 900 to 3,000 steps without thinking. Within a few weeks, you should be able to work up to 10,000 steps, which puts you in the ballpark of the Surgeon Generalís recommendation for daily activity. Some studies now suggest that walking 10,000 steps a day can be a highly effective tool for weight management.
Dr. C. Everett Koop founded Shape up America! in 1994 to provide Americans valid scientific information about weight loss. Below are guidelines from Shape Up America! to get started with the 10,000 steps program.
10,000 Steps Program
PLEASE NOTE: Especially for people with certain medical conditions, it is important that you consult with your physician before beginning a regular program of exercise.
In order to start this program, you just need a comfortable pair of shoes and a pedometer. Remember to work up slowly to avoid injury.
Weeks One and Two:
Establish a baseline. Simply track the number of steps you take on a daily basis for two weeks. Every night, take off your pedometer, and write down the number of steps you walked that day. Remember to reset your pedometer before the next day.
Weeks Three and Four:
Increase the number of steps. Take the highest number of steps you walked during the previous two weeks and set that as your goal for each day of the following week. If this feels like too much, it is fine to set a smaller goal.
Add another 500 steps if you are ready. If you cannot add 500, add whatever feels achievable for you.
Week Six and Beyond:
Continue adding steps slowly on a weekly basis until you reach 10,000 steps. Contact your physician if you have any significant pain or discomfort. Remember to take things at your own pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
Mark Fenton, host of PBSís ďAmericaís WalkingĒ suggests that you can increase the number of steps you take by 20% each week after figuring out your average daily steps for one week. So, after establishing your baseline in week one, calculate your average daily steps and multiply by 1.2 to get your goal for the next week. Continue in this fashion by boosting your steps 20% each week until you reach your goal.
For substantial weight loss, many experts recommend 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day. For aerobic fitness, 3,000 to 6,000 of these steps should be taken quickly.
Important Tips for Success
*Look for easy ways you can increase the number of steps, such as:
1. Take a five-minute walk whenever you get a chance.
2. Choose the stairs over the elevator or escalator.
3. Park farther away.
4. Take a walking break instead of a coffee break.
5. Take your dog for a walk, rather than just letting the dog run around in the yard.
6. Be more active around your TV watching. Change the channel on the TV manually and get up during commercials.
7. Walk your children to school.
8. Take a walk after dinner.
9. Donít call your office colleagues; walk over to their offices whenever possible.
10. Walk around while you are on the phone. You can add about 100 steps in a five-minute conversation.
*Keep an exercise log so you can monitor your progress and stay motivated.
*Remember that change takes time and that setbacks are a part of the process. If you skip a few days because of work, illness, or other obligations, get back into your program to avoid losing momentum.
*Consider finding a partner to exercise with to keep you motivated. However, be prepared to move forward alone if you partnerís enthusiasm begins to waiver.