Walking is the easiest and one of the best options for physical activity for almost all of us who have diabetes. More is almost certainly better. But it’s a myth that we should walk 10,000 steps every day.
When did this 10,000 figure originate and why? Way back in the 1960s a Japanese company was trying to sell pedometers. 10,000 became the number for its extremely successful marketing campaign.
This advertisement didn’t have its roots in research, and my search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine didn’t turn up any scientific basis for it. While some studies have used the 10,000 step figure as a benchmark in the past few years, they are taking it for granted rather than as a fact.
I fell for the myth
Actually, about 10 years ago I fell for this myth myself, as I wrote almost 10 years ago at 10,000 Steps. After all, it is the most widely accepted walking goal that we have.
Fortunately, the doctor that I went to then recommended that I stop walking that much every day. While he agreed with the standard advice to get regular exercise, he told me that exercising every day can be counterproductive, because it doesn’t give our muscles a chance to recover. His exercise schedule is two days on, two days off, two on, one off.
I still think that this schedule can make more sense for some people than exercising every day or doing without any schedule. But I soon realized that even walking 10,000 steps during three days a week doesn’t fit into my overall schedule. While I almost certainly walk more than 30,000 steps per week, very often they come bunched together in long hikes in the mountains, which I enjoy much more.
Of course, not everyone who has diabetes is even able to walk at all. One of the most common complications of unmanaged diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, which can make walking difficult or impossible. For these people the best way to get the physical activity then need in order to return to good health is probably some form of water exercise.
Setting a reasonable goal
A goal of 10,000 steps is certainly a nice round number that we can easily remember. But a goal this unrealistic can backfire on those of us with diabetes and make us want to throw up our hands in resignation and self-disgust. it’s not law, gospel, scientific, or even good sense.
What makes much better sense is to set a realistic goal for yourself. For most things, I like to set modest goals that I can reach, and then recalibrate. At that point I may set a higher goal or accept that anything more is unrealistic considering my time demands and ability.
Whatever goal you set, you need to be able to keep track of steps. A pedometer is a must to keep in your pocket. Who knows, you might surprise yourself and walk even more than 10,000 steps today.
David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.