I’m unsurprised that 10,000 steps was a random number selected for marketing reasons. Like so much else, it never was backed by any scientific evidence. I agree that it doesn’t take that much physical activity to promote health. The basic thing is to simply not sit on your butt all day. Anything that gets you up and moving throughout the day will probably be a vast improvement over a sedentary lifestyle. By the way, I think it goes without saying (or should) that mental health is closely linked to physical health, far from being limited to exercise. It seems common sense that physical health is the causal factor. But even assuming this, what would be the exact line of causation?
Then again, this entire approach of explanation is based on an assumption. All we know is that healthier people move more than unhealthy people. But we haven’t yet proven that merely getting up and going for a walk or whatever is the direct cause in this equation. It’s possible that it’s simply part of the healthy user effect or maybe the happy user effect (just made up that last one). People seeking better health or those already feeling good from better health are going to exercise more, whether or not movement by itself is the main factor to get credit.
From personal experience, improving health (lowing weight, increasing energy, and eliminating severe depression) by way of low-carb/keto diet was a major contributing factor to feeling more motivated to push my exercise to the next level. I can exercise while in poor physical and mental health, but it’s easier to first eliminate the basic level of problems. I always feel bad when I see overweight people jogging, presumably with the hope of losing weight (exercise didn’t help me lose weight and seems of limited benefit to most people in this regard). I’d suggest starting with dietary and other lifestyle changes. Exercise is great in a healthy state, although in an unhealthy state one might end up doing more harm than good, from spraining an ankle to having a heart attack.
It’s highly context-dependent. For simplicity’s sake, diet will probably have a greater impact on mood than exercise, despite how awesome exercise can be. After feeling better, exercise will be less of a struggle and so require less force of willpower to overcome the apathy and discomfort. I’m all about going the route of what is easiest. Life is hard enough as is. There is no point in trying to punish ourselves into good health, as if we are fallen sinners requiring bodily mortification. If one is just starting out an exercise program, I’d say go easy with it. Less is better. Push yourself over time, but there is no reason to rush it. Exercise should be enjoyable. If it is causing you pain and stress, you’re doing it wrong. A stroll through the woods will do your health far more good than sprinting on a treadmill until you collapse.
Don’t worry about counting steps, in my humble opinion, as you shouldn’t worry about counting calories, carbs, ketones, or Weight Watcher points (yes, I realize Westerners are obsessed with numbers and love the feeling of counting anything and everything; who am I to deny anyone this pleasure?). It easily becomes an unhealthy moralistic mindset of constant self-control and self-denial that can undermine a natural good feeling of health and well-being. That is unless you’re dealing with a specific health protocol for a serious medical condition (e.g., keto diet for epileptic seizures) or maybe, in extreme cases, you need the structure to achieve a particular goal. I’m just saying be careful to not go overboard with the endless counting of one thing or another. If counting is helpful, great! Just maybe think of it as a transitional stage, not a permanent state of struggle.
Sometimes rules initially help people when their health has gotten so bad that they’ve lost an intuitive sense of what it feels like to do what is healthy. I get that. But regaining that intuitive, not just intuitive but visceral, sense of feeling good in one’s body should be the ultimate goal — just being healthy and happy as one’s natural birthright (I know, a crazy radical idea; I spent too much time in the positive-and-abundance-thinking of practical Christianity). Experiment for yourself (N=1) and find out works for you. If nothing else, start off with a short walk every once in a while or heck just stand up from your desk and get the blood flowing. Keep it simple. Maybe it isn’t as hard as it first seems. Don’t overthink it. Relearn that childlike sense of enjoying the world around you, immersed in the experience of your own body. Don’t just exercise. Go play. Run around a field with a child. Have a chat while walking. Simply appreciate the state of being alive.
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by Amanda Mull, The Atlantic
“It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means the 10,000-step meter.”
Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research. […]
“The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,” Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps — less than a mile of walking — was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.” […]
Because her study was observational, it’s impossible to assert causality: The women could have been healthier because they stepped more, or they could have stepped more because they were already healthier. Either way, Lee says, it’s clear that regular, moderate physical activity is a key element of a healthy life, no matter what that looks like on an individual level.
“I’m not saying don’t get 10,000 steps. If you can get 10,000 steps, more power to you,” explains Lee. “But, if you’re someone who’s sedentary, even a very modest increase brings you significant health benefits.”
Not as much research has been done whether happiness is a key to motivating people to exercise. But one 2017 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine certainly suggests as much.
Over 11 years, nearly 10,000 people over age 50 were asked about their frequency and intensity of physical activity, at work and otherwise. Those with higher psychological well-being (a proxy for happiness and optimism) at the start of the study had higher levels of physical activity over the next decade. Also, those who started out happy and active were more likely to stay active.
“Results from this study suggest that higher levels of psychological well-being may precede increased physical activity,” said Julia Boehm, a researcher at Chapman University and lead author of the study.
I can only conclude, despite the years-on, years-off nature of my exercise routine, that exercise puts me in a good mood. And when I’m in a good mood, I tend to exercise more. In many ways, it matters little which is the cause and which is the effect. And I’ll bet it’s simply a virtuous circle (and, in those off years, a vicious spiral).