10,000 Steps to Health?

Most of us have heard that we should walk at least 10,000 steps per day in order to be healthy.  And while that is a great goal for many people, that number should be taken with a grain of salt.  First, are we talking about 10,000 slow, baby steps, or 10,000 long strides at a 4-minute per mile pace?  The health benefits of each will be different.  The 10,000-step rule also doesn’t take into consideration activities that can’t be measured by steps but are also beneficial to your overall health.  These activities include cycling, swimming, yoga and weight training.

We would deem that the amount of time that you are engaged in health-benefiting activities is more important than the number of steps you take in a day.  Most national and international health experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.  This advice doesn’t come with any mention of the number of steps you need to take.

If you’re just starting out on your goal to increase your number of steps or time engaged in physical activities, start slow.  A slow start will help prevent injuries such as tendonitis and stress fractures.  The general recommendation is that you should not increase your steps, mileage or time by more than 10% per week.

Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon and can occur in any tendon with overuse.  If a tendon is not used to a certain level of activity, and you start exercising too fast or too hard, it will get irritated and become inflamed.  Acute inflammation is often painful and should be your first sign that you’ve overdone it.   You should stop, or modify, the activity that has caused the pain until the tendon is fully healed.  If ignored or not treated timely and properly, it can become a chronic inflammatory condition.  And it is much harder to recover from a chronic condition!

While a traumatic fracture is caused by an obvious injury, a stress fracture or stress reaction can occur when you have imparted an amount of stress through a particular bone faster than the bone can adapt to it.   Stress fractures in the feet commonly occur in the metatarsal bones.  A sudden increase in activities, like starting on your 10,000 daily steps when you’ve barely walked 2000 per day for the last 20 years, can lead to a stress fracture or reaction.  A stress fracture is a crack in the bone.  This crack is usually observable on x-rays about 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms.

A stress reaction is where there is no crack in the bone.  These are not identifiable with x-rays, but edema and inflammation are present within the bone itself and the surrounding tissues.  Both issues have the same symptoms:  localized pain and swelling.  Symptoms usually start after an increase in activities or a major change in physical routine.  A lot of shopping around the holidays and starting your New Year’s resolution too quickly are two common causes of stress fractures.

Do not underestimate the health benefits of increased activity.  Certainly 10,000 steps per day is a great goal for many people.  Whatever goal you set for yourself, do yourself a favor and start slow.  You’ll get there healthier, stronger and with a lower risk of injuries such as tendonitis and stress fracture.

If you have pain in your feet or ankles after starting a new activity or after a change in your daily physical routine, our doctors at Kansas City Foot and Ankle are available and happy to help you get back on your feet quickly and comfortably.  Give us a call at 816-943-1111.