The rock band Aerosmith surely was not on a health kick when their monster hit “Walk This Way” was released in 1975. The phrase was actually said to be inspired by a skit in the Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein” the previous year–also with no connection to the exercise craze or really to the song of the same name that it was said to have inspired.
But in the recent era, walking has evolved from a rock anthem about teenage love to became an exercise mainstay–with a 10,000 step-a-day goal.
How did that happen?
Once upon a time, walking was a simple rite of passage. Sometime around age nine to 12 months, you looked up from the carpet on which you were crawling and decided the view from Up There might be more interesting, even if it did require a more delicate balancing act to get there on those first timid steps.
After that, you stood up on your own two feet to wander around the world. One step at a time, of course, until 1964 when a Japanese doctor name Dr Iwao Ohya decided that 10,000 steps a day was the path to longevity. A year later a Japanese clockmaker named Juri Kato capitalized on the idea and produced the Manpo-kei (translation: 10,000 steps) pedometer, which could be seen in some ways as a forerunner to one of the apps on the Apple watch.
Sounds serious, but when I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and friends decided to define an actual number once and for all they reported that averaging a mere 4,400 steps a day reduced a woman’s risk of mortality by a bit less than half and the protection leveled off after reaching about 7,500 steps a day.
Nonetheless, walking really does work wonders to keep you trim; increase circulation and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. It also helps strengthen bones and muscles; and maybe best of all, as an added bonus, it helps to keep you calm. While faster and farther generally seem to be better, switching back and forth from a brisk to a leisurely pace is perfectly apropos as well.
Naturally it’s not just a question of standing up and moving. Like all good exercise, walking well involves specific techniques. Start at the head, which should be up and looking ahead to avoid those classic New York sidewalk cracks and potholes. Swing your arms freely, maybe even pumping a bit unlike the character in the classic May 15, 1997 Seinfeld episode who held her arm stiff at her side, thus driving Elaine to distraction. Keep your back straight, your tummy tucked, and step heel first in the proper shoes which should support your arches and have the kind of bouncy flexible soles that cushion your feet and absorb shock.
After that, the Mayo Clinic says the trick is to stay motivated. Happily, they have five simple ways to do that. First, Set yourself up for success. Start simple, maybe with a five-minute walk at lunch, when you’re into that routine, move it up a bit, perhaps with a 20-minute walk after work. Second, Make walking enjoyable. Bring along a friend; join a club; plug in your Airpods and listen to your favorite music. Third, Vary your routine. If your regular route is straight city blocks, switch to a park. Or make part of the walk an up-and-down stairs session, possibly on your neighborhood gym on a stormy day. Fourth: take missed days in stride. You’re allowed a day or two off–provided you come back to your routine. Fifth and finally, keep track of your progress–it you’re old school, use a notebook or let your Apple Watch keep tabs to see how much further you can go as you improve.
Either way, just remember: that 10,000 steps is a goal, not a rule.