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Travis Steps into the Future... Again

Thursday, April 09, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders
Photo by Mike Baird.

As I have discussed before, I believe that incorporating physical activity into daily life is one of the easiest ways for people to increase their physical activity levels, and improve their metabolic health. Although structured physical activity (e.g. working out in the gym) is great for some people, it is definitely not for everyone, myself included. What's more, recent evidence suggests that some individuals may compensate for structured physical activity by actually reducing the amount of energy they expend during the rest of the day. This compensation can be so drastic that in some studies of obese youth, the "exercise" group actually expended less energy each day than the "control" group! Further, many people just don't enjoy structure exercise, which makes it incredibly difficult to maintain over the long-term. For these reasons, incorporating physical activity into your daily life (by walking more, taking the stairs, and generally trying to reduce the amount of time spent being sedentary) may be a more effective way to increase physical activity levels and metabolic health over the long-term.

What's more, structured exercise sessions typically last for an hour or less each day. In contrast, reports suggest that obese individuals spend the vast majority of their time being sedentary. For example, a recent study by Thomas Vanhecke and colleagues at William Beaumont Hospital (available here) examined daily activity levels in a 10 morbidly obese men and women. On average, participants in their study spent 23 hours and 51 minutes each day sleeping or being sedentary. In contrast, just 8 minutes were spent in moderate physical activity. Further, subjects in this study took an average of just 3,700 steps each day (the suggested guideline is a minimum of 10,000 steps/day). Think of how much energy could be expended just by reducing the amount of time spent being sedentary! In this way, reducing sedentary time (which includes almost the entire day), may be a much more effective way to increase physical activity levels than focusing solely on a few minutes of structured physical activity.

All of this brings me to a post I wrote a month ago about my decision to begin wearing a pedometer. Pedometers count the number of steps you take each day, and are an easy way to monitor the amount of physical activity you are getting on a daily basis (it's much easier than trying to count steps in your head all day). I had originally purchased a pedometer at The Source for $20, and since that first post, both Peter and I have been provided with very nice pedometers by Speakwell, whose pedometers also cost about $20. Peter and I have been posting our daily step counts on Twitter, and I am happy to say that we have both been averaging well-above the suggested goal of 10,000 steps per day. Most days I get about 15,000, although I've been over 20,000 a few times, and one ridiculous day I even cracked 30,000! I'm preparing for the Boston Marathon later this month, so I certainly wouldn't bode well if I was getting under 10,000 steps each day!

Interestingly, while I get several thousand steps on each training run, I have noticed that I get hardly any steps throughout the rest of the day. In fact, if I were not running on a daily basis, I would only average 6,000-9,000 steps each day! I was quite shocked by this, especially considering that I usually walk to school, as well as to the hospital where I am performing data collection. Further, on days when I am working from my office at Queen's, I hardly get any steps at all throughout the day - sometimes less than 1,000! In contrast, when I work from home, I often get far more, because I am more likely to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water, or stand at my desk while I work (I get self conscious about these things when I work from the office that I share with Peter and others). And today, despite working from home, I am appalled to say that I have only taken 464 steps, and I have been up for 3 hours. So obviously I could incorporate a LOT more physical activity into my daily life!

I'm a nerd, so I love these types of gadgets, but it really has been a very educational experience so far. I am especially curious to see what happens to my daily step count in the weeks after the marathon when I will likely be moving a lot less! If you are curious about the amount of physical activity that you get on a daily basis, I strongly encourage you to buy a pedometer of your own, and to let us know about your own experiences incorporating activity into your daily life.

Have a great Easter Weekend; Obesity Panacea will return next week!

Travis


Vanhecke, T., Franklin, B., Miller, W., deJong, A., Coleman, C., & McCullough, P. (2009). Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Sedentary Lifestyle in the Morbidly Obese Clinical Cardiology, 32 (3), 121-124 DOI: 10.1002/clc.20458

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.

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The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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