Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 May

Why We Don’t Walk Anymore (plus a Primal Health Challenge)

trafficHow many steps do you walk every day? Do you hit 10,000 steps, which experts recommend and is about 5 miles’ worth? Do you match the daily walking of a Hadza man or woman (8.3 or 5.5 km/day, respectively)? If you’re anything like the average American, you’re doing 5,117 steps a day, well shy of the 10,000 step mark and flirting dangerously with a formal sedentary classification. But we’re not alone (though we’re the worst). Of the four industrialized countries studied, not a single one found the mark. The Australians seem to come close, walking 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss follow with 9,650, and the Japanese are a bit further off with 7,168 steps per day. Contrast that with rural South African women, of whom just 11.9% can be classified as sedentary (under 5,000 steps a day) and for whom an average day means walking 10,594 steps (many of them done while carrying a load), or Amish aged 18-75 (PDF), who walk an average of 18,425 steps (men) or 14,196 steps (women) each day, and we’re all looking pretty darn sedentary.

Do we even need the cold hard statistics to know that we’re not walking nearly as much as we should? When I look out the window at 8 AM on a weekday and fail to see hordes of barefoot children walking uphill in knee-deep snow toward school (and uphill again on the way home), I know in my heart that walking is becoming a lost art in this country. But does it have to be like that? I don’t think so. Just take a look at a totally-fabricated-but-completely-plausible average daily schedule for an adult with a standard 9 to 5 job:

His alarm blaring (and eyes bleary), Ken Korg rolls out of bed and trudges to the bathroom. That’s 16 steps.

After brushing his teeth, flossing (if he remembers), and showering, he heads back to the bedroom to get dressed. That’s another 16.

From the bedroom to the kitchen to putter around making coffee, grabing some breakfast (bacon and eggs and a bowl of raspberries), and cleaning up is 40 steps.

He kisses his wife, packs his lunch, grabs his gym bag, and heads out the door to his car. That’s 50 steps.

He sits in his car for 45 minutes, never moving from the seated position. Zero steps.

He parks the car and walks to the office, which is located 300 yards away. At roughly 2.5 feet per step, that’s 360 steps.

He gets up from his desk several times before lunch, to make coffee (30 steps there, 30 back), to use the bathroom (45 steps there, 45 back), and to chat with a coworker (35 steps there, 35 back). That’s 220 steps.

For lunch, Ken likes to hit the company gym and eat afterwards at his desk. After walking to the gym (500 steps), he does a basic circuit, including an easy half-mile warmup on the treadmill (1000 steps) and walking to and from various weight stations (500 steps). That’s 2500 steps, including the 500 back to the office.

It’s 100 steps to an afternoon meeting in an adjacent building, and 100 back. 200 steps.

Ken’s off at five o’clock. He pops in to a colleague’s office to confirm their dinner date later that week (30 steps), then heads to his car (360 steps), for a total of 390 steps.

He stops by the market for a few things. They’re having steaks and grilled asparagus tonight. It’s a 100 yard walk from his car to the store (120 steps). Once inside, he wanders around the aisles (1,500 steps) for a bit, pays for his stuff, and returns to the car (120 steps). That’s 1,740 steps.

Ken gets home and goes directly to the kitchen to drop off the groceries. That’s 45 steps.

He grabs some salt, some pepper, assorted spices, some matches, and heads outside to start the charcoal and prep the steaks and asparagus for grilling. This takes about 80 steps.

After dinner and cleanup (30 steps), Ken and the fam take the dog out for a short, leisurely walk around the neighborhood. They do a mile and a half (3,000 steps), for a total of 3,030 steps.

That’s pretty much it for Ken. There’s some miscellaneous movement around the house, but nothing crazy. Let’s say another 200 steps before bed, for a grand total of 8,887 steps. That’s over 3,000 more steps than the average American takes, and in my eyes, that seems like a pretty easy day of walking. Nothing too strenuous, no dedicated lengthy walks or hikes. I may have been a little generous with the step counts, but it’s overall a manageable sum for an able-bodied adult, wouldn’t you say?

So why aren’t we hitting it? Why is the fictional character outdoing the general population? Why are between 25-35% of American adults completely inactive, meaning they work sitting down, drive everywhere sitting down, and sit down at home?

The main problem is that modern life isn’t made for walking. Though it isn’t true for everyone living within its borders, particularly in dense urban centers, the US (and other industrialized nations, increasingly) is a car country. We drive to work. We drive to the grocery store. We drive our kids to school. We drive to a fitness center to go walk around a track or on a treadmill. We drive because everything is spread out. We drive because our cities aren’t built with pedestrians in mind, because it isn’t always safe to walk. We drive because half the residents in our neighborhood don’t see a need for sidewalks and actively resist their construction. We drive because that’s just what you do, because “all my friends have their licenses already,” because “walking is for poor people.” Oh, and we drive because walking is tiring, dude, and the car is right there. In short, we drive because we no longer have to walk. Walking – real walking, for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time – has become an elective activity.

And we rarely elect it anymore.

That’s really too bad, because walking is good for our general wellbeing. It’ll help you lose body fat, if you’re into that sort of thing, and the age-old bodybuilder trick to lean out is an early morning walk on an empty stomach (supplemented, of course, with stringent dieting, heavy lifting, and smart supplementation). But it’s also good for your brain, your fitness, your memory, your longevity, your blood pressure, and your general health. From a previous post, see this short snippet of potential health benefits associated with regular walking to get an idea:

So, obviously, walking more is a good thing. That brings me to a challenge. It’s a short one – just a week long – but it’s important. Crucial, even. And I hope you’ll accept it.

I have this niggling feeling that you guys – my whole cow-sourcing, veggie-fermenting, standup-workstation-constructing, type-of-cooking-oil-inquiring Primal readership – still aren’t getting in your five hours a week of low-level activity. Are you? Be honest with yourselves. Do you measure up to Ken Korg, the Australians, the Japanese, the Hadza, or the Amish?

Let’s take a poll. Be brutally honest.

How many hours of low-level aerobic activity (walking, hiking, light cycling, swimming, etc.) do you get each week?

View Results

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Well? How’d you do?

Not so great, huh?

To rectify this situation and show you what you’ve been missing, I want you to spend at least one dedicated hour every day (yes, I’m bumping it up a notch) engaging in low-level aerobic activity – walking, cycling, hiking, rowing, swimming, or a mix of all of them. Just log that hour (and more, if you want) every single day. Walking around the mall or grocery store or to and from the bathroom don’t count toward your total. This has to be a solid hour of slow moving, preferably unbroken but splitting up the hour into two blocks works, if that’s easier.

I also want you to track your results. Remember last week’s fasting Q&A, where I mentioned using a logbook and tracking/writing down your results? Do the same thing for this challenge.

As you progress through the week, rank your energy level, mood, general sense of wellbeing each day, restfulness, or sense of productivity from 1-10.

If you’re able to, track an objective marker, like blood pressure or waist size. Since this is just a weeklong challenge, these objective measurements may not change much, if at all, but they’ll likely start to shift if you stick with the daily regimen.

If you have or want one, a pedometer would be a fun way to get immediate objective results. I guarantee if you get that hour of solid movement in, you’ll hit 10,000 steps without a problem.

If you must, walk on a treadmill. Heck, walk around your house like a crazy person. While it’d be ideal to walk outside, preferably purposefully through space and time, say on a wooded path or city street, what we’re ultimately after is the basic mechanics of bipedal movement. Lift foot, fall forward, catch your descent with lead foot, lift back foot, repeat. That is the premier Primal human movement pattern for which all of us are well-suited (injuries and preexisting conditions excluded, of course), and which many of us have forsaken – to our detriment.

Let’s knock that off. Let’s walk (or cycle, or swim) for an hour every day. Can you do that? I’m going to do it. Who’s with me?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Interesting to see Switzerland high on the list. I think there is a correlation of more walking with good quality public transport and bad traffic congestion/parking issues. I know I’d rather walk to the metro/bus and take it into the city, and then walk where I want to go, than try and take my car and hope to find a place to park it and pay the huge parking fees.

    It’s also a cultural thing – you can’t get a driver’s license until you’re 18, so since teenagers (who are similar the world round) don’t want to depend on their parents, they instead depend on public transport and end up getting used to walking to and from places early on. I think it just becomes a way of life. My 19-year-old hasn’t shown much interest in learning to drive, because it’s so easy for him to get around independently. I also know several families who have renounced on a car altogether – it is easy to get to shops and a season pass on the public transport (including trains) is cheaper than a year of car insurance.

    Gydle wrote on May 1st, 2012
    • I visisted Switzerland last summer, and we walked everywhere. The trail systems there are amazing and we didn’t bother spending the somewhat ridiculous public transportation fees.

      Vinokourov wrote on May 1st, 2012
  2. I walk about 20-22 hours a week and lift weights / body weight resistance for 3 hours a week. Two sprints on average. Two years ago I excersized zero hours a week. Needless to say I have totally turned my life around with Marks excersize pyramid.

    Michelle wrote on May 1st, 2012
  3. I’m 65, four years ago I went from being a chef/owner of a restaurant to a desk job (long story, don’t ask). I went from being on my feet from early early morning till evening to hardly walking at all. My weight balooned, my health went downhill. I was searching for help when I found this site and this lifestyle. My challenge is still moving around enough. Thanks Mark for this reminder. I do NOT walk enough and I need to resolve here and now to do more.

    Sitara wrote on May 1st, 2012
  4. How slow is slow enough to be a low-level run? I ran 5 miles in 43 minutes today, and I dont think I can move any slower without walking.

    Dane wrote on May 1st, 2012
  5. Thank you for this post. I have been getting lazy about my walking. I live in a northern climate & don’t like walking outside in the winter because I don’t want to fall on the ice. So I walk around my large basement listening to audio books, podcasts or best of all, motivational workout music on my MP3 player which entertains me so the time passes quickly. My routine was recently messed up and I haven’t been motivated to start again. This post is just what I need and now I can move my walking outdoors. I also found my pedometer is a great motivating tool (when I use it). Also, I have a desk job and I set my cellphn alarm for a reminder to get up every 30 minutes to walk, stretch or do some kind of exercise. It surprises me how soon a half hour comes up, but without the reminder I end up sitting for much longer periods of time.

    LisaM wrote on May 1st, 2012
  6. We have had a border collie in our family for the last five years. She is a guarantee that I will get 45 minutes in a day of walking in the morning and the same again in the afternoon for the kids. Snow and ice? She doesn’t care. After Chicago’s blizzard last year, we were out walking. Love it. It does as much for me as it does the border collie.

    Cathy wrote on May 1st, 2012
  7. That’s one thing I miss about living in France. No car, no problem. ‘Walking distance’ attained an entirely new definition. Since I had little money, and I wanted to save what I had for nights out with my friends, lol, I walked EVERYWHERE. Not so much now, but I still manage to put in at least an hour a day on the treadmill at a moderate pace, inclined to the max.

    Bev wrote on May 1st, 2012
  8. I live near the Coast in Calif and I try to walk to the market as much as I can. 1.8 miles each way. Other things are too far to walk to so I do go to the coast and walk along the beach and pier. It is on my list to walk as much as I can this week before I saw this post.

    Shirley wrote on May 1st, 2012
  9. My Dad came over from Sweden to visit me in So. California. After a day with me in the car and after experiencing a drive thru bank he said… “If the theory of evolution is correct. Americans will be born without legs in a couple of generations.”

    Gabi wrote on May 1st, 2012
  10. My wife got a pedometer a few weeks ago because she was curious how much we walk. We walk a lot! We live in downtown Austin, I walk with her every morning to her downtown office, and we go for an hour-long walk nearly every evening. On the weekends we almost never use the car.

    First week’s result: Just over 46 miles!

    priller wrote on May 1st, 2012
  11. I work 3km away from home and walk to/from if I’ll stay dry doing so.

    I’d recommend checking out walkscore.com for things that are walkable in the neighborhood you live and/or work in.

    I wasn’t surprised by my neighborhoods scores (work and home) but I did learn about some interesting things to do in both areas.

    I also learned exactly how close some things are (less than 1km and I was transiting or driving or not going because it seemed to far to walk).

    Jenn wrote on May 1st, 2012
  12. Im a landscaper so walking is something i do 6 days a week March through November. All i can say is at 26 and doing this my whole life in the family biz, i have a lot of miles on me

    Frank wrote on May 1st, 2012
  13. “I want you to spend at least one dedicated hour every day (yes, I’m bumping it up a notch)…” M. Sisson

    THAT made me laugh!

    I hardly ever sit down…once I hit the couch it’s already 8 or 8:30pm…by 10 pm I’m in a laying position until next day 8 am, where I’m back up on my feet walking, working, house choring, dog walking, grocery shopping…again. :)

    Heck, I average 2.4 miles alone walking my 4 dogs. That’s before I think about breakfast.

    Arty wrote on May 1st, 2012
  14. Just got back from a lovely hour-long walk during my lunch hour. I feel great! Now, on to my Big Ass Salad….

    mars wrote on May 1st, 2012
  15. I only rarely hear golf mentioned at MDA, but I think it hits a lot of primal targets, walking not least among them. 18 holes at 6200 yards once a week adds about 7400 steps, far more if you play as badly as I do. I have had the honor of playing not a few rounds with fit old men, some of whom work out before their round.

    There was recently a woman in the club where I golf who died at a ripe old age, but not before sinking a hole-in-one just a few months earlier. Would that we all could go out like that.

    Steve wrote on May 1st, 2012
  16. I would love to see more relatively small challenges like this! Rids me of a few excuses and appeals to the part of me that loves a good challenge.

    Kate wrote on May 1st, 2012
  17. If you need the motivation, make a competition out of it. Seven of us in our office have been competing for nearly 2 years to see who can get the most steps in a month. The losers have to buy lunch for the winner. Yes, this can encourage chronic cardio, but most of our steps are from walking. To even have a chance to win, we need to average 13,500 a day.

    Jason wrote on May 1st, 2012
  18. Timely article (frequent occurrence Mark, thanks). I’m in!

    In February i began a walking for 1 hour in the morning before breakfast. It’s a leisurely pace (20 min/mile). My heart rate stays in the 90 bpm range (non-panting). I wear a weighted vest most days. That’s coupled with 4-5 days per week of ‘lifting heavy things’ later in the day at the company fitness center.

    I’ve been wearing a pedometer for more than a decade. Getting 10K steps is a breeze with that morning jump start of almost 7K steps before leaving for work. My new daily average steps has increased from 8k to 15K.

    In the past 60 days, my waist has decreased by 1 inch from 34 to 33 inches. My weight has remained relatively constant between 154 and 159 pounds.

    Over the several months, the goal is to have a waist size of 32 inches and then 31 while maintaining, if not increasing body weight.

    I encourage everyone to walk more. In addition to Primal Blueprint’s “walk a lot’ encouragement, the morning walk routine was ‘seconded’ after reading the 100 Workouts article by Dr. Lonnie Lowery. The article has been published several places. Here’s one from T-Nation: http://goo.gl/NaFJZ.

    Grok on!

    Paul Witsaman wrote on May 1st, 2012
  19. I’m not sure how many Americans know of the GCC but it has been big both here in Australia and parts of Europe for a while now. I’ve done it for at the last 5 years.

    http://www.gettheworldmoving.com/

    I thoroughly recommend getting involved in it at least once as an awareness exercise.

    Marcus wrote on May 1st, 2012
  20. If your work/school is too far to walk, try biking! If everyone who worked within 5 miles of their homes biked instead of drove imagine how much fitter our country would be? Walking is also great, but can start to get time consuming if your work is >2 miles from your home. Plus biking to work starts your day off so much better than driving. Of course, this is another thing where our society is designed with cars and not bikes in mind.

    Stephanie wrote on May 1st, 2012
  21. I walk to and from work, and walk at lunch too. On weekdays I do about 15k steps and about 50 floors equivalent up hills. And I have a standing desk. I’d say my walking activity level is pretty good. :)

    Dracil wrote on May 1st, 2012
  22. Nice post, Mark, thank you.

    Question:

    My daily routine doesn’t include a lot of walking. Walking’s just not my thing – after years of foot pain, followed by recent surgery that I’m not fully recovered from yet – I’m just not that into it.

    I really love cycling, though. It doesn’t strain my foot like walking does. I ride 5 mornings a week. Not low level – about an hour at a range of challenging paces, followed by about 15 minutes of Primal-type moves (squats, etc.) and stretching.

    I’m guessing that’s a bit too much “cardio” for most people’s liking on this site … but, as those favorite Stones lyrics say – I like it, like it, yes I do!!!! :-)

    I spend the rest of most days at my standing desk. When I need to go somewhere, I usually take the bus or a taxi.

    I live in NYC. Time is at a premium, for lots of reasons, including how I’ve spent my early morning time (i.e. cycling, working out). And the weather sucks, more often than not. This isn’t Malibu :-)

    So, based on these facts and circumstances, am I good? Or am I totally missing out on something, because I haven’t built walking into my day?

    Thanks.
    Susan

    Susan Alexander wrote on May 1st, 2012
  23. Walking 20-30 minutes in the morning before work works for me, but if I try to walk an hour, it takes another hour to cool off. Walking at lunch is out because in the Alabama heat I’d have to shower before going back to work. In the evenings, it’s hotter still.

    I figured out that I started gaining weight after I quit walking to school (uphill both ways–really!) I’m trying to walk in the mornings & evenings again, but like I said, the heat here makes afternoons tough sometimes. That absolutely requires two showers a day.

    BisonWoman wrote on May 1st, 2012
  24. Where you live is a huge part of this too. I’m currently in the suburbs where nothing is close enough to walk to (groceries etc.) I was thinking out loud to my husband the other day about retiring to a more walkable town. Maybe back to the beach life. Although that’s dense and expensive. Everything is a trade-off.

    Right now we play a lot of table tennis, which is our low-level aerobic activity. That and gardening on a hillside is probably getting us a lot of steps per day. But even with that I feel we could do a lot more.

    Hillside Gina wrote on May 1st, 2012
  25. Hey i was so inspired by this blog post that i decided to create a challenge on The Daily Mile… (http://www.dailymile.com/challenges/5382-why-don-t-we-walk-anymore)

    I decided to extend the challenge for the entire summer… (you can read my OCD parameters on the challenge page at Daily Mile)

    Would be so fun to have some primal cohorts join me over there and we can log our miles/hours all summer long.

    Jojo wrote on May 1st, 2012
  26. I liked this article, I bought a fitbit 3 months ago and it’s a lot of fun to see if I can get 10,000 steps in a day. I make it a goal and I can usually accomplish it. If I’m close, I get on the treadmill and walk while I read. If I’m not…well there’s always tomorrow.

    piefrog wrote on May 1st, 2012
  27. I am in Italy for the semester so I am walking minimum of 2 hours a day which is awesome (though my primal eating habits have kind of flown out the window for the time being :/). It will be so weird when I go home to suburban Ohio where 30 minutes of walking a day is like the maximum

    Ben H wrote on May 1st, 2012
  28. When I was growing up in the 70s I did not like walking the approx 2.5 miles(one way) to elementary school. We lived in a quiet El Paso neighborhood with side walks and part of the walk home was up a street with a moderate incline.
    I was so jealous of the kids that had their mothers drop them off and pick them up. But my Mother made me walk to and from school. I now cannot thank her enough!!! :) Because I know it made me get used to and enjoy walking and other exercise later in life. I also believe it prevented some health issues.

    Gayle wrote on May 1st, 2012
  29. WOW I could not believe the article (and comments below it) about the residents arguing about whether to have a sidewalk and the city building half! What a strange mindset some people have. Here in New Zealand developers of new subdivisions must include a sidewalk (we call them foot-paths) on at least one side of the street, if not both. I can’t conceive of a street without a foot-path, and I didn’t realise that some countries don’t see them as a priority.

    As I live reasonably close to the centre of my town, I walk every where. I hate paying for parking!

    Sandra from NZ wrote on May 1st, 2012
  30. I have said that “Walking is for poor people” on countless occasions, but everyone I have said it to knew it was in jest. I aim for 20-30 miles of walking a week and I spend at least 1/3 of my time at work walking around our building going to my different work areas, so I definitely see the value in it. I am a car guy, too, so it’s extra tough to leave the cars at home but I love it!

    This week some coworkers and I entered a spring activity challenge at work, so my goal will be to walk/lift/sprint for at least an hour every day. So far, so good.

    Ed wrote on May 1st, 2012
  31. Walk the dog a minimum of 2 hours a day. I’m a teacher also, so I probably get 10,000 steps in on top of that just walking around my classroom all day (and to the office, the copy machine, to and from parking lot, etc….)

    Nick wrote on May 1st, 2012
  32. I come in about 2.5 to 3 hours a week right now. But in my defense, I’m 7 months pregnant, and I can only stand to be on my feet for about an hour.

    Marcia wrote on May 1st, 2012
  33. Essy enough, I walk my dogs everyday already. The main reason I got my dogs was to have a reason to walk that whines and begs. If you are not walking, get a dog!

    Maureen wrote on May 1st, 2012
  34. I get the point and certainly am down with the concept. The problem is time. It would mean taking that hour of free time after dinner and its clean up to go walking or whatever. I don’t think I want to do that every day and sacrifice that time when I already get up in the morning to exercise 5 days a week. It would be more realistic to get my laptop hooked up to a treadmill to be honest. Bummer, though, because the only one I’m hurting here is me.

    Tina wrote on May 1st, 2012
  35. I work in physical therapy at a hospital, and I get patients up and walking as much as possible and as soon as they are capable. Even 60 feet, twice a day can make the world of difference in patients that just got out of surgery, or haven’t walked in years. I teach people how to walk again, and its amazing!

    shana wrote on May 1st, 2012
  36. You caught me at the right time! I have been walking 6 or 7 hours a week for the past few months. It started when my truck mounted bicycle rack was stolen…no rack meant no bikes along on our RV trips, so walking became my default. I actually enjoy it more than riding, it’s safer and your attention can be directed wherever you desire at any time.

    skeedaddy wrote on May 1st, 2012
  37. I love this post! I have a non-sedentary job (I am a cook, on my feet 6 hours or more per day) I also do my own yardwork/landscaping, clean my own house, and walk my dog everyday. I hike on the weekends for R&R. I hate the gym with a passion, blew my knee out many years ago, and fitness classes make me feel like a child, so I do not exercise. I figure my life is enough exercise! So, while I do not look like a perfectly-sculpted bikini model, I can wear a pair of shorts without dying of embarrassment, I have the energy to enjoy every day, and my doc says my vitals are far healthier than average. And all I do is avoid processed food and get up on my feet everyday. That’s it, that’s all…and it’s working!

    Karen wrote on May 1st, 2012
  38. Stay-at-home motherhood: you will never sit down for more than 2.5 minutes. :-)

    Jen wrote on May 1st, 2012
  39. Funny,
    I was just about to DRIVE to the gym (about 1.5klms) for a Personal Training session. Just decided to walk it instead.
    Thanks for the reminder of how simple it should be.

    Julie wrote on May 1st, 2012
  40. I work as an Occupational Therapist in a skilled nursing facility–the facility is a long city block long, and I walk that at least 15 times a day to get patients. That doesn’t include the time I spend walking with patients. Typically I walk my dog another mile or two after that. So yeah, I think I come pretty close most days.

    Seeing my patients improve, I can attest to the power of walking–it is truly one of the most important activities we engage in as humans. The fact that so many engage in it so little speaks volumes to the level of unhappiness in what is considered such a “prosperous” society.

    fritzy wrote on May 1st, 2012

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