American author, humorist and public radio celeb, David Sedaris, chronicled his obsession with walking in an essay recently published in The New Yorker. His inclination to walk 5, 15 … even 25 miles in a single day, he says, can be traced back to the moment he bought his first Fitbit, an exercise tracking device for your wrist that, among other things, monitors the number of steps you take in a day.
Sedaris’ version of the Fitbit, he wrote, vibrated whenever he had taken 10,000 steps in a single day – a little more than four miles, he calculated.
“I was traveling myself when I got my Fitbit, and because the tingle feels too good, not just as a sensation but also as a mark of accomplishment, I began pacing the airport rather than doing what I normally do, which is sit in the waiting room, wondering which of the many people around me will die first, and of what,” he mused. “I also started taking the stairs instead of the escalator, and avoiding the moving sidewalk.”
For Sedaris, continually increasing his distance each day allowed him to continue feeling that sense of accomplishment he so longed. But according to a recent study published in Arthritis & Care Research, he could have stopped each day at 6,000 steps and still been rewarded with some real benefits in the realm of arthritis prevention.
According to the study, titled “Daily Walking and the Risk of Incident Functional Limitation in Knee OA: An Observational Study,” walking the equivalent of about an hour each day may help improve osteoarthritis in the knee and prevent long-term disability.
“There are really no standard recommendations on how far people need to walk,” said Daniel White, a research assistant professor in physical therapy who led the study. “Do people really need to walk 10,000 steps a day? For people with arthritis, that could be a daunting task.”
Nearly 27 million Americans aged 25 and older have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, the “wear-and-tear form of arthritis,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which was quoted in the report. Of that number, it’s estimated about 80 percent of these people are limited in movement due to joint pain and stiffness.
After studying nearly 1,800 adults, White and his colleagues concluded that 6,000 steps – that’s total steps in a single day, including strolls through the grocery store and trips to the mailbox – is the tipping point where subjects began to significantly reduce knee pain and their risk of developing disability.
Unfortunately, medical evidence sited in the study indicates most U.S. adults who suffer from arthritis hardly come close to this 6,000-step threshold. Two-thirds of arthritis sufferers walk less than 90 minutes each week, in fact, likely due to pain and stiffness.
White’s advice for these folks? Start small, and the benefits will come.
“We encourage those with or at risk of knee [osteoarthritis] to walk at least 3,000 or more steps each day, and ultimately progress to 6,000 steps daily to minimize the risk of developing difficulty with mobility,” he said.
Better joint health is just one of a great number of health benefits from walking, as recorded by years of medical research and published studies. According to the American Heart Association, 30 minutes of walking each day – that 3,000-step “starter threshold” White discussed – can improve blood pressure, help maintain a healthful body weight, enhance mental wellbeing, and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Of course, before beginning any new workout regimen, including a daily walking routine, always consult your personal physician. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all exercise, so first make sure your doctor puts her or his stamp of approval on any new workout.