Why are we meant to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit?

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit? - BBC News

A simple, clear article about the history of the 10,000 step target set by many organisations – where did that come from, anyway?

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The men who made us thin

As a follow-up to The Men Who Made Us Fat, the fairly-predictably-titled The Men Who Made Us Thin was, on the basis of its first episode, a disappointment.

Now, you may feel that as someone who writes about diet approaches and offers weight coaching, I’m biased. And I am. Totally. I’m biased because I believe the central proposition of the programme was faulty. The host, Jacques Peretti, stated that only around 5% of people who try to lose weight keep it off. But he misspeaks. Firstly, the study he cites is limited to WeightWatchers- a weight loss approach I feel is outdated. Secondly, only 5% of people keep all of their weight off. Of course dieters are likely to put a few pounds, a kilo or three, back on once they adjust to a weight maintenance lifestyle. But in Peretti’s argument, they’ve failed.

It’s not to say that the episode made no good points. One aspect that was hammered home repeatedly was that someone on a diet is starving their body and the body responds appropriately – attempting to conserve as much of that energy as possible, slowing down metabolism and increasing food cravings. This is well known; it’s the source of the ‘starvation mode’ urban myth.

It’s telling that many of the facts shared in the original programme were omitted from this. For example, the first study that was referenced was explained to be from Ancel Keysdemonised as the ‘fat maker’ in the last series as he unscientifically identified fat, rather than sugar, as the main cause of obesity. This wasn’t mentioned here. Equally, the mention of Atkins was carefully phrased; something like “his detractors said that his diet caused his heart attack” without clearing up that misconception.

The whole thing was made to sound calculated and distrustful- when in fact, you could sum it up in two sentences.

  1. Every diet works, if you stick to it.
  2. Stop using the diet’s rules and you’ll regain your weight.

How to restart your weight loss

Sometimes, losing weight becomes harder than normal. Plateau, stall – there are lots of names for this, but sometimes it feels like the weight just won’t come off.
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Of course, that’s not true – there’s a way to get rid of the weight, but it will probably need a little change to your approach.

So, before you despair and think about giving up, run through this list.

Has this been a consistent problem for more than 6 weeks?

Weight loss isn’t a straight line; we all go up and down. This is especially true for women, where hormonal differences can cause weight gain. Weigh yourself on the same day at the same time each week. If your weight hasn’t changed for 6 weeks, you should start to look for other reasons.

Are you drinking enough water?

Amazingly, many of us confuse thirst for hunger. If you’re not getting enough water, you’re making it harder for your body to run and harder for you to avoid the snacks!

Are you getting enough sleep?

It’s not just that if you’re asleep, you’re not eating (although that’s a help). A recent study has shown that just one night of bad sleep leads people to be hungrier and to choose larger portion sizes. Here’s Why You Should Get More ZZZ.

Are you eating enough veg?

Green, leafy vegetables are low in calories and help you feel full after a meal.

Are you measuring your portions?

It’s too easy for portions to creep up as you get comfortable with your new style of eating. It’s usually gradual; a slightly-larger portion of Shreddies in the morning, or the swap of the soda water back to a swift half on Friday evening. Why not go back to weighing your food, just to make sure you’re eating what you think you are.

Are you eating something which only seems good for you?

Salad dressings, Greek yoghurt – there are many foods out there that are healthy in principle, but are easy to eat too frequently or too much. Always check the nutritional label!

Are you overeating for emotional reasons?

It’s something we all do from time to time, but it’s not really helpful. If you’re eating just to change your mood, see if there’s something you can do instead. I’ve taken to making and enjoying a big cup of tea.

Have you reduced your physical activity level?

Maybe you’ve gone back to taking the lift at work, rather than walking up the 4 flights of stairs. Amazingly, little things like this add up. Have you tried to walk 10,000 steps every day?

Are you weighing yourself consistently?

Remember the old rhyme, ‘a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter’? Well, if you drink a pint of water, that’s how much your weight will immediately increase! It’ll go down again as you go through the day, but that’s why we always recommend weighing in the same clothes at roughly the same time of day.

Have you already been losing for a while?

If none of the above apply, it’s possible that you’ve done so well that you’ve shrunk below your current calorie-count. When you started to lose weight, you were larger, and so needed more calories just to fuel yourself. Well guess what? You’re smaller than you were before, so now (cruelly) you need fewer calories to ‘run’. That unfortunately means you may need to reduce your intake to continue the good work. Try working out a reasonable calorie target here.

Commit to a goal.

I’ve signed up to a 5k run.

I’m not a runner. I don’t particularly like it and I find it very hard to get my trainers on and get out there. Which is exactly why I’ve signed up.

Sometimes, it’s important to have a goal – something to stretch you and make you work towards a result. When you’re losing weight, the first few kilos/pounds are easy to lose, because you’re running away from something – from ‘fat me’.

When you’re getting closer to your target, suddenly it’s much harder as you need to change your motivation to run towards something. And that what I’m doing – literally. I’m running towards my first 5k.

Using the NHS’ 5K podcast, I’ve started the 9-week programme, which will culminate with the Color Run, an untimed run which has its first races in the UK this year. I’m running in London. The sense of fun (you’re blasted with paint at kilometre markers, leaving you looking like those fools above) and the lack of competition (my aim is just to run the whole way, rather than to achieve a certain time) gives me enough flexibility to believe that this is an achievable, realistic target.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be running. Perhaps it’s not going up for seconds at a buffet, or being able to skip up the stairs at the shopping centre without running out of puff. But work on something small and build from there.

Are you sitting down?

Amazingly, research has shown that a five-minute wander every half hour is more important when it comes to fending off diabetes than regular gym attendance.

The report, which reviewed many other studies, showed that those who sat the most had a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and death than those who sat the least.

This sounds obvious when phased like this. But in our everyday lives, most of us think that our health is down to the effort we put in at the gym – forgetting about what we do for the rest of the day, too.

In fact, according to a YouGov poll, a quarter of British adults now walk for less than nine minutes a day – including time spent getting to the car, work and the shops – that’s less than an hour every week. While nine out of 10 Britons agree that walking is a good form of exercise which can keep you healthy, most are not doing so nearly enough.

Almost half of people surveyed walk for two hours or less a week – meaning they are not doing enough walking to stay healthy. Chief medical officers recommend that adults do 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, like walking, per week, but 43 per cent of people surveyed walk for 120 minutes or less.

Dr Emma Wilmot, head of the study, said:

“If a worker sits at their desk all day then goes to the gym, while their colleague heads home to watch TV, then the gym-goer will have better health outcomes. But there is still a health risk because of the amount of sitting they do.

People convince themselves they are living a healthy lifestyle, doing their 30 minutes of exercise a day. But they need to think about the other 23.5 hours.”

I’ve spoken about NEAT before; this is more evidence of the same issue from the opposing angle. Those who move more throughout the entire day are healthier.

So stand up for your meetings. Walk during lunch. Get up to drink another water, then get up again to go to the loo.  Take ‘mini breaks’ from your desk. Run errands. Take part in hobbies that don’t include sitting down in the evening. Switch off the telly.

It’s looking even more important to your health than before.

Advice from an older man

After losing a job, Andrew Forsthoefel decided to try walking across America from his home in Philadelphia to the Pacific. 4,000 miles, talking to people he met along the way. He asked them a simple question; what advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?

Andrew made it into a radio show, of which an edited version appeared on This American Life. But this post isn’t about him. It’s about one of the people he met along the way. Andrew asked the 83-year-old about hos life and his abilities. He’s not credited on This American Life – in the transcript, he’s simply listed as ‘man’ – but something he said made me want to share it with you.

It hadn’t been, I don’t know, the day before yesterday or something, I was in my 20s. And it just goes by. Whenever you’re young, and you’re waiting to get 16 to get your driver’s license, the years go by kind of like highline posts.

And then you get that. And you get out, and you go to work, and all that stuff. And then they get a little faster. They get like fence posts.

And then pretty soon, you get up to 65 years old. And things change in your life so much so drastically, of putting your feet where you want them and your body where it needs to be. It’s gone.

And time goes by like- like cross ties on a railroad track. Just tch-tch-tch-tch.

These days are gone. So while you’ve got it, use it. Your mind, your strength, your agility.

Use it.

What the world eats – what does your food look like?

What the world eats -- a week's worth of groceries - Imgur

The Bainton family’s week, Cllingbourne Ducis, UK

 

Sometimes, it helps to lay it all out in front of you.

Food’s a funny thing. We all eat, but there are some significant differences from person to person and from culture to culture.

In 2008 husband-and-wife photojournalists published a book with a week’s worth of food from 25 families in 21 countries. TIME published 45 of these photos in three sets, linked below.

There’s an interesting insight into individual culture’s demons; the US’s prepared food, the UK’s reliance on snacks and Mexico’s love affair with Coca-Cola are all visible.

Does your weekly shop look more like this or like this?

Moves – the pedometer meets the iPhone

Moves is a great app to help with tracking and enforcing your everyday physical activity.

If tracking your progress is important to improving (tip: it is) then Moves can help by showing you exactly what you’ve been doing and how that correlates to your aims.

Like a Nike FuelBand, Moves uses accelerometers to track your movement and give you a good understanding of how that relates to the real world, both in terms of number of steps and distance covered.

Where it by far exceeds the FuelBand is that as it uses your iPhone to track you, it also knows your speed and general motion. It transmits your data back to the developers’ servers which can (fairly accurately, in my experience) compare your data to others to decide whether you’ve been walking, running, cycling or even travelling by ‘transport’ – car, bus or train.

It’s also free! I have played with Moves for about a month now and it has shown itself to be far more accurate than my FuelBand for calculating my walking, for example.

It’s not perfect – at the moment, there’s no easy way to export your data, for example – but the biggest problem is that it is hungry.

Having your phone’s sat-nav system active all day drains the battery fast. I have an older phone and so its battery isn’t perfect, but I still found there were many days where the battery wouldn’t last until bedtime.

Ultimately, it was this that made me stop using the app – I found I spent longer worrying about needing to top-up my battery than I did about my activity level. However, I already own a FuelBand. If I didn’t have a personal tracker, I would almost certainly still be using Moves.

Rumour has it it that Apple may be building a smartwatch with personal tracking capabilities. Until then, Moves is the smartest personal tracker out.

Two ways to enjoy your day’s carb count

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On the left, a pile of fruit, nuts and vegetables  that collectively contain 30g of carbohydrates. On the right, half a burger bun, which also contains 30 grams of carbs.

If you’re on a carb-controlled diet (and you probably should be), 30 grams could be roughly your whole day’s intake. Which would you prefer?

A brisk walk is healthier than running

A study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California has suggested that as long as you’re expending energy, the speed doesn’t matter.

At least, that’s the findings from an astonishing six-year-long study on over 48,000 runners and walkers. It showed:

Risk of developing Running Walking
Heart disease down 4.5% down 9.3%
High blood pressure down 4.2% down 7.2%
High cholesterol down 4.3% down 7%
Type 2 diabetes down 12% down 12%

The catch? The amount of energy expended needs to be equal – so to achieve the same results a walker will have to walk much further and for longer than a runner would need to run.

“Walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits of moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities,” said study leader Dr Paul Williams, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

“The more the runners ran, and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.