Forget Counting 10,000 Steps, Focus On Brisk Walking For Biggest Benefit, Say Experts

Get that heart rate up.

Walking 10,000 steps per day has long been a go-to goal for anyone looking to improve their fitness. But health leaders want adults in the UK to focus on the speed of the steps they’re doing, not just the number.

Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are encouraging the nation to introduce 10 minutes of brisk walking into their day, an idea called ‘Active 10’.

That’s because for movement to count as “moderate intensity physical activity” it must get your heart rate up and cause you to breathe faster - something a long but gentle stroll may not do. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) currently recommends adults complete at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

The renewed focus is designed to help the three million middle-aged adults who are currently classed as “physically inactive” across the country, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week. A new survey from PHE revealed lack of time as a major contributor to inactivity, with almost one third (31%) of adults saying this was the main reason they didn’t exercise, followed by not feeling motivated (27%) and being too tired (25%).

To help adults monitor the effectiveness of their steps, PHE has created an ‘Active 10’ fitness app which shows users data on intensity and time, rather than just distance.

PHE’s survey found nearly nine in 10 (87%) of adults say they walk more than 10 minutes per day already, however just over half (54%) say they walk briskly for this amount of time.

Completing 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week has been linked to a whole host of health benefits, including a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The current physical inactivity crisis also has a societal impact - in adults, physical inactivity contributes to one in six deaths in the UK and costs the NHS over £0.5 billion per year.

Professor Sir Muir Gray, clinical adviser for the Active 10 app and PHE’s One You campaign, said the additional health benefits that can be achieved by walking at a brisk pace for periods of 10 minutes or more – as opposed to totting up a certain number of steps throughout the day – are “undeniable”.

“I’d advise anyone of any age and activity level to start to fit in at least one 10 minute brisk walk a day as a simple way to get more active, especially those who may be taking medication for a long term health condition – you will receive even more benefits from walking briskly for 10 minutes or more a day,” he said.

Dr Zoe Williams, GP and RCGP Clinical Champion for Physical Activity and Lifestyle, added that doctors want their patients to enjoy a healthy life.

“I often encourage my patients to take up more daily physical activity, which can start with just a 10 minute brisk walk – it would be great to see more people doing this across the country,” she said. “Moving more is an important step forward to improving the health of the nation and looking after our NHS, which is often overburdened by lifestyle related illness.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (PCGP), added while doctors encourage patients to make lifestyle changes that could potentially benefit their health and wellbeing “the responsibility cannot solely lie with healthcare professionals, and patients must also play their part”. “The RCGP is really pleased to have endorsed the Active 10 app, which empowers patients to make basic lifestyle changes around diet and exercise, such as taking a brisk walk for 10 minutes a day, and suggests ways for patients to easily incorporate these into their lives,” she said.