I will look for literally any excuse not to go to the gym, from “it’s raining” to “my calves hurt” to “my cat is sick” (… I do not have a cat.). And my personal favorite: “I already hit 10,000 steps today.”
That’s because walking 10,000 steps over the course of a day is basically the same thing as getting in a legit cardio workout, right? Uh, no—not really. According to the pros, sadly, it is not. “It depends on what your goal is,” says Elroy Aguiar, PhD, senior postdoctoral research associate at the Physical Activity and Health Laboratory Department of Kinesiology at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at University of Massachusetts Amherst, when I ask him if walking 10,000 steps can replace your cardio routine at the gym. “If your goal is to increase cardio fitness or aerobic fitness, then getting your 10,000 steps, especially if they’re at a lower intensity, would not address your goal of increasing your fitness substantially.” So, for example, if you’re looking to run a faster 5K, walking 10,000 steps isn’t going to do a whole lot to help you get there.
Jeff Monaco, director of education at Gold’s Gym, echoes Aguiar’s sentiments that it’s all about your goals—especially because your body will quickly adapt to whatever sort of regular activity you’re giving it. “When the body adapts, this is typically what is referred to as a plateau,” he explains, adding that when this happens, the results you’ll see from whatever physical activity you’re doing will start to decrease. He points to the “principle of progressive overload”—which states that “in order to improve one’s conditioning, one must gradually train the system harder than it is accustomed to.” In other words, if you want to get faster or stronger, you need to train harder than just walking the usual 10,000 steps. “Think of 10,000 steps as the minimum for daily physical activity, and additional cardio training as weekly exercise to improve fitness and overall health,” says Monaco.
For what it’s worth, 10,000 steps is actually a pretty arbitrary number to begin with—as we recently revealed, it might just be the biggest scam since Fyre Festival. While Aguiar explains that while getting this many steps in can be useful for improving health outcomes, like controlling blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, and improving your baseline of fitness, it probably won’t do a whole lot for your fitness. So if you’re aiming for any sort of increased athletic performance or weight loss, doing cardio on top of your 10,000 steps is still going to probably be necessary.
According to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, adults should do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes (which translates to between 7,000 and 8,000 steps) of vigorous exercise per week in order to get “substantial health benefits” from these activities. But again, depending on what your goals are, you’re probably going to want to add some additional cardio into the mix.
So, bottom line: Getting more cardio activity is always going to better, especially if you’ve got goals you’re trying to reach—but every once in a while, feel free to count your 10,000 steps as a full workout. And an excuse to skip the gym.
Be sure to get your 10,000 steps on in style this summer with these podiatrist-approved sandals. Plus, here’s exactly how much exercise you need to do to combat the hours you spend sitting at your desk.
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