Forget 10K Steps: This Is How To Know If You're Actually Getting Enough Movement
Are you reading this article on your morning walk? Or at least standing up? No shade to those who prefer to do their daily skim lounging on the couch with a coffee in hand, but we can't ignore the growing number of folks folding as much activity into their days as they can—and tracking their time spent idle in the name of longevity.
Forget 10,000 steps, the real marker of well-being is to lessen the amount of inactivity (or sitting still). You may be familiar with the sentence sitting is the new smoking, but we expect people to prioritize regular movement—even while seated!—during their everyday lives.
Moving even a little bit can improve your health.
We say it all the time here at mindbodygreen: The best exercise is the one that you'll do, be it a heavy-duty HIIT session or simple stroll around the neighborhood. And it seems more and more people are subscribing to that same just get up and move! philosophy. The "hot girl walk," for example, practically exploded in popularity over the past year, a TikTok trend that influenced the masses to take a break during the day and go for a mindful walk filled with intentional self-love (bonus points if you listen to a guided meditation or health-forward podcast).
The original practice started off as a 4-mile walk, but you don't necessarily need to cover that distance to reap the benefits. In fact, even a super-short stroll has been associated with a longer life: According to a study presented at the ESC Congress 2022 Barcelona, just a 10-minute stroll every day (or one hour each week) has been linked to increased longevity in people 85 and older.1 Specifically, researchers found that among 7,047 adults ages 85 and older between the years of 2009 and 2014, those that walked for at least one hour a week had a lower risk of cardiovascular concerns than those that were less active.
Another 2022 study of more than 400,000 U.K. adults found that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking per day was associated with longer telomeres—enough that their biological age appeared 16 years younger by midlife2.
Even if you don't have time to get up and go for a walk, try to incorporate regular movement into your busy schedule. For instance, you can try taking the stairs whenever you can—research shows people who take stairs over escalators and elevators have younger-looking brains3, and that stair walking is even more energizing than low-dose caffeine4 (how's that for a midday pick-me-up?).
Or you might invest in a treadmill desk to clock some steps while you work: According to the data science team at e-commerce accelerator Pattern, the demand for treadmill desks has grown a surprising 75% so far in 2022, compared to this time last year, and that's on top of 15% growth in 2021 versus 2020 over the same period.
The bottom line? People are trying to minimize their inactivity as much as they can, even if they aren't able to set aside time for a workout. Brain researcher Marc Milstein, Ph.D., would agree: "If you enjoy going to the gym, that's great, but we can also find ways to integrate exercise into our daily lives," he says on the mindbodygreen podcast. "Park a little bit farther from your errand, get off the bus a stop early, or call a friend and take a morning walk. All these little things can add up."
Perhaps that's why more people are interested in tracking all those little things rather than relying on a single metric. Take the Oura Ring, for instance, which helps you stay physically active on a weekly basis and avoid complete inactivity daily; it features no specific step-count goal but encourages less than eight hours of inactivity a day. You can even set "inactivity alerts" in your settings for friendly nudges to get your blood flowing (e.g., standing up from your desk to stretch your legs) if you've been still for 50 consecutive minutes.
Just standing vs. sitting is better for blood sugar.
On that note, simply standing versus sitting can help you meet your activity (and overall health) goals. "We know that when you stand, you engage so much skeletal muscle," says metabolic health expert Lauren Kelley-Chew, M.D., on the mindbodygreen podcast.
"Just think about the way that your core has to be engaged in order to stand up straight, the way that your glutes are engaged, your hamstrings, your quads… If you're, for example, washing the dishes after dinner, your muscles are much more activated than if you're sitting or lying down. And I don't think there's any question that physiologically, that will improve your blood sugar," she continues. To that end, it's no wonder the consumer demand for standing desks is up 9% so far (per Pattern), compared to the same period last year.
Even when you are sitting, you can still move with intention.
Of course, rest and relaxation are just as vital for your health (downtime is productive time, as we predicted in 2019!), but it is possible to optimize your activity while sitting or lying down. In fact, some exciting new research5 shows that you can activate the soleus muscle in your calf via a seated "soleus pushup" (SPU), an exercise coined by Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., a professor of health and human performance at the University of Houston. The soleus is a posterior leg muscle that runs from just below the knee to the heel, and when activated correctly, it can elevate muscle metabolism for hours—yes, even while sitting.
"We never dreamed that this muscle has this type of capacity. It's been inside our bodies all along, but no one ever investigated how to use it to optimize our health, until now," Hamilton says in a news release. To perform the SPU, keep your feet flat on the floor and muscles relaxed, then raise your heel while keeping the front of your foot on the ground. When the heel gets to the top of its range of motion, then you can release your foot to come back down. (Here's a video demonstration if you'd like a visual.)
It may sound like a simple heel lift or sitting calf raise, but it's actually a very specific movement that requires wearable technology that isn't available to the public quite yet. "The soleus pushup looks simple from the outside, but sometimes what we see with our naked eye isn't the whole story," Hamilton adds.
As we wait with bated breath for SPU wearables to hit the mainstream, we can invest in other performance-enhancing technologies in the meantime. For example, Forme's lineup of FDA-approved, posture-correcting garments—including their Sculpt+ Legging Luxe waistband technology, which launched this October—actually helps you fix your alignment in real-time.
"Posture is the foundation for your health and performance. Your daily form is everything for active living," orthopedic surgeon Stephen Liu, M.D., the founder of Forme, tells mbg. "When you have proper posture, your bones and joints are in alignment, which puts less stress on the spinal joints and allows your muscles to work more efficiently… Slumped posture compresses the lungs and GI tract, making it more difficult to digest the food you eat and breathe comfortably."
Forme's posture wearables naturally engage muscle memory to correct alignment, alleviate neck tension, lengthen the lumbar spine, and help open the chest for better breathing. "Once you wear Forme for a few weeks, your muscle memory will train and learn what good posture is when sitting in an office or working from home," says Liu, which then sets the stage for better metabolic and muscular health. A pretty good deal, considering all you have to do is shimmy into some chic athleticwear.
Takeaway of the trend.
With emerging research on the power of micro-movements and new technologies to track your progress, it's never been easier to get up and go. We know regular exercise is crucial for longevity, but let's flip the script in 2023: Rather than prioritizing a specific step count or workout goal, simply try to minimize your time sitting still. Baby steps, if you will.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.