Most of us know that meeting recommended activity levels is important to manage our health and prevent disease, but some of these recommendations may feel arbitrary.
The idea of walking 10,000 steps a day became very popular in the health industry’s quest to promote physical activity in adults. Interestingly, this number doesn’t come from scientific data, and studies conducted since its inception show that taking 10,000 steps a day isn’t as easily linked to health as we might think.
Origin of 10,000 steps
The idea of 10,000 steps per day being a healthy goal originated in 1965 with a Japanese technology company. The company, Yamasa Toki, developed a pedometer and gave it a name that translates to “10,000 pedometer” and marketed it with the slogan, “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day.”
The slogan took off in Japan and soon spread around the world, sparking a fitness trend and countless studies.
The idea of walking 10,000 steps a day as a way to improve health has limited supporting research.
Little information is available on the number of steps required to achieve clinical goals and affect mortality, but measuring the number of steps taken per day has significant potential to improve health, and some studies have shown to have benefits.
A study looked at the effects of 10,000 steps a day on the mood and health of people with otherwise sedentary lifestyles. Study participants took fewer than 5,000 steps per day at baseline. After increasing activity to 10,000 steps per day or more over a 12-week period, participants had lower depression scores, indicating that an increase in the number of steps can have significant effects on mood.
Research shows that people who reach a goal of 10,000 steps per day are more likely to be a normal weight, while those who take fewer than 5,000 steps per day are more likely to be obese.
This study also showed that people who walk less than 5,000 steps have a higher percentage of body fat and a larger waist circumference than people who take more steps per day.
10,000 Step Problems
The goal is to use 10,000 steps a number of problems. The only way to accurately measure steps is to wear a pedometer or other type of tracking device; the cost of this can be a barrier and interest wanes over time. There is also a certain margin of error when using steps as a unit of measurement, as everyone’s steps are different depending on their stride, speed and intensity.
The more the better?
A study shows that taking more steps is not automatically better. This study followed more than 16,000 women in their 70s and compared the number of steps they took each day with their “all-cause mortality” — their chance of dying from any cause.
When researchers followed the women for four years and three months after the study, the average number of steps for those still alive was just 5,500. Those who took only 4,000 steps a day were more likely to be alive than those who took just 2,700 steps. Overall, researchers found that the more steps the women in the study took, the better, but only up to a point. At 7,500 steps per day, the benefits reached a plateau. Taking 10,000 steps resulted in the same life expectancy as 7,500.
Benefits of walking
Walking has benefits in itself, even if people cannot or cannot take 10,000 steps a day. People with type 2 diabetes are likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle, walking fewer than 5,000 steps a day, but are more likely to stick to pedometer-based walking programs than other types of exercise.
A study looked at the effects of walking on people with type 2 diabetes over the course of a year when they were given a pedometer and were encouraged by their doctors to increase activity. The results show that patients who received a pedometer and step count prescription from their doctor had a 20 percent net increase in the number of steps and improvements in both insulin sensitivity and A1C, a blood sugar test.
What to focus on?
Instead of trying to take 10,000 steps a day, increasing the level of physical activity above your current amount perhaps a more attainable goal. Going from fewer than 5,000 steps per day to 7,000 steps per day is likely to provide health benefits, even if it is well below 10,000 steps.
For some people, 10,000 steps a day is an unrealistic and intimidating goal. Rather than getting discouraged, it seems much more feasible to increase the number of steps each day and increase the number over time.
Minutes a week
Instead of 10,000 steps, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 . at minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. Break the weekly goal of 150 minutes into easily digestible chunks, for example 30 minutes a day five days a week, or divide it even further into three 10-minute sessions.
People with sedentary lifestyles may not be able to maintain a fast enough pace to qualify for moderate-intensity exercise. In these cases, increasing your baseline steps by 2,000 steps per day is a good start.
How to increase the number of steps
Increase daily number of steps does not to have being hard. Listening to music while walking can help increase the pace and keep you motivated. To make walks more enjoyable, you can volunteer to walk the dog or ask friends or family to join in.
If possible, schedule walks during your lunch break, and try to take the stairs instead of the elevator or park at the back of the parking lot, as far from the entrance as possible. If you are traveling by bus, get off one stop before your destination. Small changes like these add up over time and cause your daily step count to increase slowly and steadily.