The Matka of Walking (All It Takes is Just 4000 Steps a Day)


What is Matka Medicine? The introduction and its follow-up on atmasvasth explain it all. Matka Medicine has two broad sections. The first where I discuss the various “matkas” or factors that affect our health and the second where I write and talk about how we can empower ourselves and take steps to live long, healthy, using current, validated data and science. In the end our health is our responsibility and no doctor or healthcare system, especially in India is really going to take the time out to help us live long, healthy, unless or until we fall sick - the idea is to try and not become ill in the first place.

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” Henry David Thoreau.

There are two reasons to walk really; because it is the best way to live longer, healthy and because it is just such a terrific thing to do. 

Let’s first look at the atmasvasth benefits.

A 2020 study in JAMA [1] by Dr. Pedro Saint-Maurice and his colleagues, using digital steppers, recorded the daily steps of 4840 people between 2003 and 2006 and then followed them up for over 15-18 years. The authors and the paper have mainly focused on those who walked 8000 and 10,000 steps a day…these people lived longer compared to those who only walked 4000 steps or less. But, walking 8-10 km per day is not easy…and perhaps, not even required. Take a look at this graph that I have redrawn from their data. 

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Walking 4000 steps per day as against 2000 steps per day also reduced mortality by half in those over 50 years of age. 4000 steps amount to around 3.2 km/day, which would be between 30-45 minutes of walking, depending on your speed. Just that much, in people over 50, halved the mortality rate. And though, in the study, the reduction in mortality got better and better, the more you walked…when the issue is about just starting to walk, 4000 steps are where the sweet spot is.

As I had mentioned in “The Matka of Moving”, just getting up from the sofa and “moving” allows us to live longer and healthier by around 20% compared to those who don’t move. 2000 steps per day are as good as “not-moving”. 4000 steps are a game-changer and  need a plan…time to be set aside to actually go out on to the road or to a garden or park…even a treadmill will do, but only if the weather is really bad. 

And while it is great to use digital methods like Fitbits and Apple watches to track, you don’t need to stress with gadgets. Just 30-45 minutes of brisk walking every day will add up to 4000 steps. 

And we don’t need much…a pair of comfortable shoes, appropriate clothing and if there is a balance issue, perhaps a walking stick. Even in Mumbai, where there aren’t enough gardens or forests to disappear into, we can still find a quiet stretch of road or a largish footpath to walk on. 

If we have to choose one physical activity to do every day, it should be walking. 

I run, and for a long time, have been thinking less of those who walk…but the older I get, the more I appreciate the other benefits of walking…the aimlessness of direction and the ability to disconnect and let the mind wander free, as a perfect antithesis to meditation where you either want to focus or become thoughtless depending on which side of the zen debate you are on. 

There are so many ways to walk, unlike running, which is, well… just running.  You can walk briskly, fast, slow, amble, saunter, walk mindfully, or do a Buddhist walk, pace up and down, shuffle, skip, keep changing pace, especially with someone shorter or taller…there is variety and experimentation. 

I pity those who listen to music or podcasts or who incessantly make phone calls and try to catch up on messages (I used to be one of them). In some weeks, I will talk about how important it is to reduce pollution, which includes digital noise. We have to find some time during the day to completely switch off from our calls, social media, WhatsApps, emails, etc. and what better time to do this than when walking. 

I know there are people who are terrified of being alone with their own thoughts…these are the same people who cannot imagine a holiday without at least 4-20 other people along…but it is not difficult and walking without digital crutches is liberating and allows the mind to soar and explore and depending on where we are, appreciate the beauty of what is around us. 

I would urge you to read Thoreau’s long essay on walking, that he wrote in the Atlantic, in 1862. And then perhaps Ferris Jabr’s New Yorker piece on how walking makes you think, because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.

In short, do walk. Everyday. Without a phone and earphones. For at least 30-45 minutes. It will help you live longer, healthy (atmasvastha) while allowing your mind to question, wander and explore. 

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1. Saint-Maurice PF, Troiano RP, Bassett DR Jr, Graubard BI, Carlson SA, Shiroma EJ, Fulton JE, Matthews CE. Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA. 2020 Mar 24;323(12):1151-1160. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.1382. PMID: 32207799; PMCID: PMC7093766.