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)

How 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

Loading ... Loading ...

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. Stay-at-home motherhood: you will never sit down for more than 2.5 minutes. :-)

    Jen wrote on May 1st, 2012
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Walking is kind of part and parcel of what I do every day. Walk to the stockroom at work, lift and toss a bunch of big, heavy boxes until I have a respectable stack on my cart, drag it out to the section I am working that day, and walk back and forth with armloads of heavy books and magazines putting them up and taking them down. Not to mention that if anyone asks me where something is, it is always on the other side of the building, so I get more steps in showing them where it is! Folks who just can’t find time/money to work out could just get a job in retail (I work in a bookstore) and get a paycheck for walking and lifting instead of paying the gym membership!

    Bevie wrote on May 1st, 2012
  5. I’m Australian and when I don’t have university I walk a lot. When I’m at uni the parking is convenient And lectures take up most of my day so I don’t. I think the public transport and parking is just so bad in most of the major Australian cities that everyone just walks. Also there are a lot of pretty places to walk. It’s often also a socialization thing- if a friend or family member comes over, you go out for a casual walk for an hour or so to catch up- is that something that happens often in other countries?

    SophieE wrote on May 1st, 2012
  6. I love this topic! Since I can walk without pain now, I put on my Fila shoes (vibrams aren’t substantial enough in an industrial environment), leash up my spaniel/border collie mix and walk. I especially love stopping at rest areas with nature walks. Many other stops have landscaped hills to run, narrow gullies to jump, and walking paths. I usually drive 500+ miles per day bites definitely make an effort to get away from the truck and walk a few miles a day. There are places too dangerous to walk around ( mostly east coast) and some places that, as a stranger with a large black dog, I’m not welcome,but we are lucky enough to just move on to the next place.

    TruckerLady wrote on May 1st, 2012
  7. I live in Kobe thus, every time I move from my house I have to face a slope… I end up walking like a mad (4 km round trip) just to get to the station and back home. Running if I am late. So, it does not really matter if I take the train or not: I end up walking at least 5 km each time I leave my house. That was a nice primal addition to my everyday life!

    Walk on!

    voingiappone wrote on May 1st, 2012
    • haha “walk on” good one!!

      mars wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  8. I’ve been taking my bike to the work almost every day for a year now (total 12 km), wonderful feeling and not more time-consuming than taking the metro…!

    Mallin wrote on May 1st, 2012
  9. I work as a kitchen manager in a very busy restaurant. As a result, I am on my feet for a good 9 or 10 hours a day, moving intermittently. How would this count? Would I also walk another hour on top of that?

    Jason Sandeman wrote on May 1st, 2012
  10. It’s hilarious. Some of our clients go from working in hospitality where they walk 15-20K steps a day to doing a desk job and wonder why they stack on the pounds.

    Move it to lose it we say

    Melbourne Personal Trainer wrote on May 1st, 2012
  11. London is very walker-friendly. There’s as much traffic on the sidewalks as there is on the roads! And a lot of people cycle. In fact, with the expensive tolls and parking fares, I think they purposefully discourage people from using cars. I walk everywhere :-)

    Milla wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  12. I walk. A lot…however, I’m constantly amazed by the love everyone seems to have for subsistence living.

    Newsflash guys—those people who walk 6+miles a day have it hard and would cheerfully have it easier. I’ve lived without running water and farmed without (much) machinery and even that was harder than I’d like to admit. I had a nice solid house and water down the street…..

    fuzzy wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  13. Hello everybody, this is kind of off topic but i want to here your thoughts. Im researching super nutrition academy. Has anybody taken any class’s?

    Chris wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  14. Be an ER NURSE. I can easily log 14,000 steps in one shift. Now to nail the food part…

    Barb wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  15. A timely challenge, THANK YOU for lighting that fire under me… no more excuses, I’m IN!

    KerryK wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  16. I’ve taken the challenge… time to put this great knowledge into action! I’m about 210 and need to be around 175 pounds, so I have work to do!

    I just walked to work… exactly 1 hour. So another hour back tonight and I’d say I’m on my way. This site is a tremendous resource of BS free info.


    PS – I also started fasting yesterday. So I went all day until about dinner time (6pm) with only water and tea. I had a few minor bouts of hunger, but because I was at work it was easy to get past and eating dinner made it doable for me versus 24 hours. My mind was alert and sharp all day… going the same today.

    Skattabrain wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  17. Our kids (Australians)get given pedometers every year for our national “walk to school” day, and there is a whole flurry of information about the place…they all seem to know that they need to log 10,000 steps a day.

    When we were on holidays in Queensland (a state to the north of us) they have a government campaign called “get your 30 a day”…. To educate everyone to get 30 mins of exercise every day, somehow, even broken down into small bursts.

    Our most current campaign is to become a “swapper” ….. Along the lines of re-educating people to think that if they are going to the park, to swap the car to the bike, or to walk, or if they are going to eat fast food to swap to a better fast food choice or swap to a healthier option other than fast food.

    Dee66 wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  18. Lots of walking is just one perk of living in NYC….and why you see relatively few obese people here.

    Jess wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  19. Mark, I live in Melbourne Australian and have to say that I’m very skeptical that the study result of the “average Australian takes 9,695 steps per day” being an accurate reflection of the true average. I haven’t read through the methods used to reach this conclusion however I suspect as a general population average it’s substantially less and definitely so for the adult, city-dwelling, professional demographic of which I am a part. I’ve been using a fitbit to track my daily steps and ensure that on most days I exceed 10,000 steps (and in my Vivobarefoot Ra’s that I’m able to pass off as dress shoes) however find that even with walking the dog, walking to and from the train station and between the train station and work, making a conscious effort to take am extra walk or two during the day and including my incidental movements throughout the day (admittedly as an office worker) it barely brings me past 10,000. If I compare my activity levels to many of those around me I suspect unfortunately that they would not reach even a third of that total per day. We all need to walk more!

    presentdaypaleo wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  20. Mark, I’m with you.

    spayne wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  21. I live in one of the least pedestrian-friendly cities in the U.S. – probably the world: Houston, TX. Not surprisingly, we are often rated as one of the fattest cities in the nation. Yuck! Like L.A., people drive everywhere here. I’m a cyclist, and I have to drive at least 20 miles out of town to find a safe place to ride. There are folks who ride in town, but between unfriendly cars, traffic lights and lack of bike lanes, it’s really a lot of stress and no fun to ride. I started my primal lifestyle 2 weeks ago tomorrow. I feel great. I’m a recovering high carb eating, high-intensity cardio addict. I teach spinning once a week, but I taught aerobics for 17 years! I’m up for this moderate intensity challenge. Fortunately, I have live in neighborhood that’s great for walking. Grok on!

    Melanie wrote on May 2nd, 2012
    • Yeah the Dallas Texas area is also not too pedestrian (or bicycle for that matter ) either. I mean EVERYTHING is so spread out that you really cant walk to the grocery store for example. Also, I very rarely see a gaggle of kids walking to school
      However they are building a lot of communities in which shopping. restaurants etc right in the same area i.e below apartments/condos. This of course encourages walking

      Gayle wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  22. 10270 steps today

    Jeff wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  23. Did anyone see Dr. Sanjay Gupta telling folks on Sunday that SUGAR is the main culprit in cancer?

    Mark, I don’t know how to get directly to you but I thought you may be jumping for joy on that one!

    perennialpam wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  24. I think the main issue is walking is BORING. I mean seriously how uneventful does your life have to be for a walk to be exciting??

    I find it therapeutic if I need to relieve stress or interesting if it’s a walk somewhere scenic. But WALK to the grocery store?? In suburbia?? Forget about it. When I lived in a slightly more urban area I would bike to the grocery store. But that’s exciting, and you feel like you’re really MOVING. It’s a rush.

    I don’t know man, this is a HARD SELL. I’d rather do sprints on the beach, ride a bike, lift weights, snowboard, play kickball…. but walking?? What am I an old man with no other options?? No thanks.

    Bike shirt wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  25. I started walking for exercise January of 2010. At work they started the Virgin Healthmiles program. I started to get my steps in how ever I could. The next month I discovered the movie FatHead. I started out at 390, last June I was down to 225. I am still hovering around that area. I try to walk 6.5 miles (around 16-17k steps), Mon-Thurs, Fri-Sun get 8.5 miles (20k+ steps) a day. Last month I hit 13 million steps.

    Tim wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  26. Count me in!

    Dianne Duncan wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  27. I’m in Mark. This post is so timely! I’ve been a Primal Blueprint community member for almost 2 years, and still learning so much. I keep going back to the idea that the low-level aerobics is really that crucial conditioning-base you’ve discussed. It’s a foundation for health, as well as any other exercise that happens. As of 2 weeks ago, I committed to 1 hour (or more when I can) of walking. Right when I made the personal commitment, I came across an organization called the Better Block Project (you can google them) who promotes walk-able and bike-able community areas. A fantastic way to counter the modern issues of urban life. Thanks for this post, and all the others. Hugely impacted my life.

    Jolynn wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  28. Most of my walking is done with my dog. So it’s rather stop/start. It’s what you get when you walk a male dog who’s not been snipped around a neighbourhood where there are lots of other dogs.

    My mind boggles at the thought of residential streets without sidewalks (pavements to my british mind). Although there are plenty of roads without pavements around me, they’re country roads without houses (very minor roads, no lines down the middle types).

    I have been thinking recently that there is lots of the day where I am sat down where as if I was a hunter-gather I probably would not. I accept your challenge.

    treborix wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  29. What about stair-climbing? I live in a townhouse with a narrow floorplan and four floors (including the garage, which we use for storage space).

    This morning, I counted flights of stairs I climbed. In my regular daily routine of getting ready for work, I climbed *UP* 12 flights (never mind the DOWN flights).

    When my wife or I am cleaning the house or playing handyman, it is a big workout, just handling all the cleaning supplies, vacuum cleaner, tools, etc. On a typical Saturday all day at home I’m probably exceeding 30 flights upstairs. Maybe 50 flights.

    Does anyone know how to measure this type of exercise against Mark’s ideal “slow pace movement” ?

    Jacob wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  30. My brother and I have recumbent trikes, which we ride daily on a nearby trail, or through the neighborhoods downtown. We go for 45 to 90 minutes. We enjoy seeing the town from a great perspective on the trikes, and talking with our neighbors who like the trikes. By the way, the latest research shows that it is the cumulative amount of time spent exercising in a day that is important, not the iron rule that it must be at least an hour per exercise session. Cheers.

    UncleD wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  31. I do get my more than 5 hours a wevk by swimming at least 6 days a week, usually for 60-75 mins. But I do need to walk more now I’ve got the weight down a bit.
    Thanks for the needle, Mark, I’ll try for at least 3 early walks a week.

    Odille Esmonde-Morgan wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  32. I have it covered: I cycle to work daily,leisurely, with the mp3 player, half an hour each way. 5 days a week makes 5 hours.

    WildGrok wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  33. I used to walk 30-35min everyday for years. It was either just before dinner in the short days of the year or after dinner so that I would be out just as everything is turning pink and purple around sunset. It was a beautiful time of the day and if I missed it I would feel a bit wired, somehow unsettled in the evening.
    At some point I really felt connected, relaxed, sweet during the walk as my mind quietened down. I would just “see” everything as it is. I often felt high as everything just went kind of quiet inside. I know this may sound weird but it almost felt like I was having some kind of spiritual connection with the entire universe.. must be the chemicals in the brain that got released. But hey, it was so good. Really good and I wanted that feeling everyday .
    The health benefits were huge. I felt relaxed as a result, happier in general as I felt connected to myself and the whole damn scene, my legs and butt felt really toned, my weight/blood sugar was stable and I felt, at least at that time, like a whole person instead of this crazy fragmented, stressed person I have become as this amazing habit slipped away from me 2 yrs ago with my heavy work schedule.
    I really miss that routine and reading this has reminded me how important it was to keep me not only healthy but sane.
    Damn it, I am going to try to recreate this as part of my daily routine.
    Thank you so much Mark for posting this.. Great timing. I gave up one of my part-time jobs so no excuses.

    SimplyPrimal wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  34. I sold my car years ago and have walked everywhere since. Not only do I walk about 15 hour per week plus any distance for whatever I do with my kid on the weekend, but I pace whenever I can and fidget when that isn’t possible. If I’m not moving I’m asleep. The only problem with that is the number of Vibrams and boots I go through every year.

    Morghan wrote on May 3rd, 2012
  35. My husband and I recently added another puppy to the family and we walk her almost every day just so she will sleep at night. We walk to the library and return books/ pick up new ones. We are doing two things many people do not: walk and read.

    Darcy wrote on May 3rd, 2012
  36. This is one of the upsides of Asia.

    Everything is very close together, so choosing to use alternative transport is not difficult.

    Here in Taiwan, even in a fairly rural town I can walk 8 mins to work, ride my bike 30 mins to my other work, walk 10 mins the inlaws place, ride 10 mins to take the kids to school, walk 20 mins to the intercity bus, no need for a car at all. I probably don’t walk the 10,000 steps described here, but keeping moving all day is not a hard choice.

    But it is still a choice, as most people choose to ride scooters everywhere, despite the proximity of everything.

    Peter Stewart wrote on May 3rd, 2012

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