ALBERTA, CANADA -- Walking may not be enough on its own to produce significant health benefits, research suggests. A team from Canada's University of Alberta compared a 10,000-step exercise program with a more traditional fitness regime of moderate intensity. Researchers found improvements in fitness levels were significantly higher in the second group.
Lead researcher Vicki Harber says, "Generally, low-intensity activity such as walking alone is not likely to give anybody marked health benefits compared to programs that occasionally elevate the intensity."
They compared 128 sedentary people on a 10,000-step exercise regime, which they completed at their own pace, with a group whose routine was more difficult, but still allowed them to speak one or two sentences with ease at the end. Both routines, which lasted for six months, burned off the same amount of energy.
The researchers assessed impact on fitness by measuring blood pressure and peak oxygen uptake. The step program increased peak oxygen uptake by an average of 4 percent over the six months, but the moderate intensity exercise group increased it 10 percent.
Other markers of overall health, such as fasting plasma glucose levels and blood fat levels were unaffected by either exercise.
"Our concern is that people might think what matters most is the total number of daily steps accumulated, and not pay much attention to the pace or effort invested in taking those steps," Harber says.
However, the 10,000-step program does help motivate people to begin exercise, she says.
"Across your day, while you are achieving those 10,000 steps, take 200 to 400 of them at a brisker pace.”
Professor Stuart Biddle, an expert in exercise science at the University of Loughborough, says it is possible that the current guidelines on how much exercise is needed were set too low.
"They are based on a little bit of an educated guess," he says. "However, you have to strike a compromise between physiology and psychology. The harder you make it, the fewer people will actually do it. It may be that very small changes to the fitness of a large section of the population would have quite a big impact."