A study comparing how many steps people take each day in different countries has given some insight into what role walking plays in explaining the obesity problem. Counting steps may just be the solution to get people moving more.
With so much focus on the food and dieting side of the weight-loss equation, the importance of increasing activity sometimes gets lost. Because of our increasingly sedentary lives, and abundance of easily available calorie-rich food, the reason for the explosion in obesity rates over the last few decades is right in front of our eyes.
Simple strategies that can help people become more active are a valuable addition to the ongoing battle against the population’s expanding waistline. A pedometer is one such device that is proving popular to track steps taken. A pedometer is both cheap and easy-to-use and does a good job of counting steps over the day. More steps equals more calories burnt – it is as simple as that.
Because pedometers remove much of the bias in assessing a person’s physical activity levels, they can be useful as a litmus test in tracking the physical activity levels of wider populations. One such descriptive study has looked at the average number of steps taken per day by adults in the United States and compared this to rates from other countries.
Every step counts
Using step counts from over 1,100 US adults, the average American was found to take just 5,117 steps per day on average. This is much lower compared to estimates of Australians (9,695 steps), Japanese (7,168 steps) and Swiss (9,650 steps).
Men were found to take slightly more steps (around 400) per day on average than women. People who were single took 6,076 steps per day which was far more than married people (4,793). There was also a steady decline of average steps per day after the age of 50. People who were classified as obese took 1,500 fewer steps per day than those who were of a healthy weight.
The science of estimating physical activity is not always exact so caution needs to be used when looking at population estimates and comparisons between countries. The results from this study though do go some way to explaining why the United States has a much higher rate of obesity (defined as a BMI above 30 kg/m2) than other countries.
The goal of 10,000 steps per day is now widely used for a range of pedometer-based physical activity programs, as it represents a moderate level of activity. For someone walking 10,000 steps, this equates to covering a distance of around 7 kilometres. People who walk 10,000 steps or more per day have been found to have a 72 percent less likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.
What it all means
Rather than focus on mostly ineffective public health physical activity guidelines of being active for 30 minutes per day on most days of the week, counting steps with a pedometer to get motivating feedback on how every bit of movement can be effective.