10,000 Steps A Day Research Project Begs The Question: Speed Skater or Marathon Runner. . .

Which Muscle Type Are You?

How timely that today a new report has been published that shows that walking 10,000 steps a day leads to improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, lower body fat and overall endurance. But, walking 10,000 steps a day does not have an impact on muscle strength, agility or balance based on the results of the research.  As soon as I read the last piece of news, I thought, “Great! “  Now that I’ve convinced my co-workers to wear a pedometer and try to get to 10,000 steps a day a study comes out that puts the kibosh on the benefits of walking. (Not really.)

The research was led by professor Mylene Aubertin-Leheudre at the University of Quebec in Montreal.  Professor Aubertin-Leheudre’s test group consisted of 57 women between the ages of 50 and 70.  The women wore pedometers to track how many steps they walked in a day.  From that point they were divided into three groups:

  • Low activity – less than 7,500 steps a day
  • Medium activity – between 7,500 and 10,000 steps a day
  • High activity – more than 10,000 steps a day

All of the women’s body weight, body fat, muscle mass and muscle strength was measured.  The women were put through the rigors of standing on one leg and jumping onto a step with both feet to test balance and agility.

Here’s What They Found:

  • The high activity group weighed less and had a lower percentage of body fat.
  • The low and medium activity participants had BMIs (body mass index) in the overweight range.
  • Muscle strength and muscle mass on all three groups were very similar.
  • All three group’s ability to perform the balance and agility tests were comparable.

In other words, there’s good news and bad news. Walking is good for weight and body fat control, but doesn’t impact strength, balance or agility.

The conclusion by the researcher was that the women were not walking in a way that impacts muscle strength and mass and that more purposeful or intense walking might need to be done for results in these areas.  She is working on a study to determine is higher impact walking would increase muscle mass and strength.  I think there’s more to it than that.

Muscle Fiber Lesson 101 – Slow Twitch and Fast Twitch

Remember when we ran the 100 yard dash in grade school and there was always this one kid that could run faster than everyone else even though to look at her there was nothing remarkably different.  It was probably because she was born with a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers.

We are each genetically predisposed to possess a certain number of fast and slow twitch fibers.  If we have one in abundance, for example fast, we tend to excel at sprinting or speed skating.  Those of us with more slow twitch fibers do better in longer endurance activities such as marathons or long bike rides.

Walking 10,000 steps a day – or running marathons for that matter- utilizes and develops the slow twitch muscle fibers which do not increase in size.  So, women in the age range of 50 – 70 years would not increase the muscle mass in their legs just by walking faster or with more intensity as the researcher suggested. High twitch muscle fibers that undergo explosive, repetitive moves – think speed skaters for a minute – will increase in size, but it’s unlikely that women in this age range would be willing to work at the intensity required for an increase in muscle mass due to fast twitch muscle fiber action.

Strength Training Is Your Friend
And it is also the key to increasing muscle mass, balance and agility. Building muscle through a structured strength training program that includes all large muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, chest and back) and core will develop muscle and improve balance and ability.

Not only will strength training increase strength and stability, it will also reduce the risk of several diseases including diabetes, osteoperosis, obesity, back pain, arthritis and depression.  Plus it will help us look amazing in the skinny jeans, the little black dress and the bikini.

Don’t Throw The Pedometer Away

Even though Professor Aubertin-Leheudre’s study has helped prove what most of us already knew that doesn’t mean we should trash the pedometer.  Being physically active and walking at least 10,000 steps a day will help us lose or maintain weight and keep our cardiovascular system in tip-top shape.  That’s all good stuff even if it doesn’t increase muscle mass. There are plenty of other ways to do that and so many resources to help us get started.

Where To Begin

If  you’ve been doing mostly cardio workouts, the transition to strength training can seem daunting.  But, it doesn’t have to be. One of my favorite resources for strength training workouts is About.com Exercise.

What I love about About.com is that there is a picture for every exercise so it takes the guess work out of trying to read a description and decide if you’re interpreting it right.  For example, the Lower Body Opposing Muscle Group Workout shows 10 exercises that you can do at home with a couple of pieces of equipment for a complete lower muscle group workout.  There are so many workouts on this site you’ll have trouble deciding where to begin.

A set of six pound dumbbells, a five or six pound medicine ball and 20 minutes two to three times a week will get you started.

Comments

  1. Even if you walk more than the 10,000 steps every day, this is something I regularly do, I think intensity matters as well. True you won’t build muscle by walking, but instead of plodding or shuffling along, if you really get a sweat going you can burn a few more calories in the process. Every little bit helps.

    -Mitchell

    • You’re absolutely right! Higher intensity is better and interval walking is the best. Anything to keep us moving!