The idea that we need to take at least 10,000 steps a day has entered fitness lore although just how this saying has come to be is much less clear. Some researchers have traced the origins of this magic number of steps to a Japanese company that made a pedometer and named it Manpo-kei, or “10,000 steps meter”. This was way back in1965 and could explain how this seemingly arbitrary number came to be. Could this goal of 10,000 steps a day be more grounded in marketing than actual science? And, if so, is there any actual health benefits to reaching this target?
Based on a study that was published in May 2019 in JAMA Internal Medicine, women who averaged 4,400 steps per day had a 41 percent lower mortality rate than sedentary women who averaged 2,700 daily steps. Mortality rates were progressively lower with more steps taken before tapering off at 7,500 steps per day — that’s 25 percent fewer steps than the common goal of 10,000 steps. In addition, researchers didn’t find a clear link between stepping intensity and lower mortality rates after accounting for total steps per day.
While the study was limited to approximately 16,500 women between ages 62 and 101 (their average age was 72) from the U.S, it would appear that there is evidence to suggest that the more steps one took per day correlated to a longer and healthier life.
Other studies have examined the potential benefits of taking 10,000 steps per day on body composition and heart health. For example, a study revealed that averaging 9,500 or more daily steps helped a group of adults who were overweight or had obesity lose about 5.3 pounds and 2 percent body fat and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 3 milligrams per deciliter after 36 weeks.
Despite taking 10,000 steps a day being a good starting point, is it enough? In spite of these researched benefits, there are limitations to the 10,000-step target.
Many factors affect our health beyond taking 10,000 steps per day. Lifestyle factors like sleep, stress management, and diet all play a part. Yet these habits and activities may not be reflected in your daily step count. For example, if you have a poor diet, are constantly stressed, or not sleeping properly, those 10,000 steps will have a limited impact on your health.
Despite its limitations, it is clear that some movement every day will contribute to general health. Counting steps may help you stay on top of your physical activity and reduce your sitting time. If nothing else, counting steps can be a great way of keeping you accountable. However, experts have warned that we should avoid getting fixated on the actual “10,000”. Instead of fixating on a single number, aim to improve different factors that affect your health, such as eating healthily, having quality sleep, eliminating stress, and getting sufficient exercise.
We should also aim to focus more on the quality of the movement as opposed to the quantity of the steps. Experts have recommended that we should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity like running, or an equivalent mix of the two every week. Be sure to do at least two full-body strength workouts per week, too.
While doing all this, it is helpful to enjoy the process. Be appreciative of your body and all that it is capable of doing.
Quoting Shawn Arent, PhD, CSCS, professor and chair of the department of exercise science and director of the sport and science lab at the University of South Carolina in Columbia: “Movement is something that we’re fortunate enough to be able to do, and the more you do it, the longer you’ll be able to maintain that ability.”