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10,000 Steps a Day for Better Health: Myth or Reality?

Let's dig into the truth behind the 10,000-step and find out what really counts in each step towards a healthier lifestyle

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26 Mar '24
5 min read


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Walking 10,000 steps a day has been a benchmark for optimal physical activity. But how did this specific number become the gold standard for daily steps? 

Who decided this number for us? How did experts arrive at this number?

As it turns out, the origin of the 10k steps trend can be traced back to a marketing campaign for an early pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The story goes: In 1965, Yamasa Toki, a Japanese company, unveiled their latest step counter, named the Manpo-Kei, translating to "10,000 steps meter." Promoted with the slogan ‘Let's walk 10,000 steps a day,’ the device tapped into the popularity of Japanese walking clubs. The allure of the 10,000-step goal, coupled with the catchy slogan and affinity for round numbers, quickly gained traction. The rest, as they say, is history.

As time passed, 10,000 steps became the yardstick for step counters and pedometers, from Fitbits to Apple Watches, giving people the impression that hitting this number was the ultimate walking achievement.

But is it? This number has a limited scientific basis.

I scoured through several websites, each showcasing credible research on the topic. Analyses were interesting. 

Harvard Medical School researchers even analyzed smartphone accelerometer data, revealing a global average daily step count of around 5,000.

A study published in JAMA Network Open in 2021 tracked 2,110 adults over a decade, monitoring their daily step counts. Surprisingly, the researchers found out that hitting 7,000 steps daily, not the famous 10,000, could lower your risk of kicking the bucket early. Similarly, the findings from a 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine were close. Moreover, they observed that beyond 7,500 steps, the health benefits of walking plateau, particularly among older women aged 62 to 101. While younger individuals may require a higher step count, doctors recommend adjusting goals accordingly.

In another extensive study, from 2020, involving nearly 5,000 middle-aged individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds, results were similar. This means 10,000 steps per day wasn’t essential for longevity. Instead, participants who walked approximately 8,000 steps daily were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause compared to those accumulating only 4,000 steps daily. While additional steps beyond the 8,000 mark offered slight statistical benefits, surpassing the 10,000-step target didn't significantly enhance protection against premature mortality.

American physical activity epidemiologist Amanda Paluch and her team investigated the correlation between step count and cardiovascular disease by analyzing seven previous studies where participants wore step counters to monitor their cardiovascular health. 

Pooling these studies provided a more diverse sample and revealed a consistent trend: as step count rose, the risk of cardiovascular disease declined.

Although the exact number of steps needed for clinical goals and mortality impact remains uncertain, monitoring daily step counts shows great potential for improving health.

The Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy examined how achieving 10,000 steps daily impacted the mood and health of individuals leading sedentary lifestyles. Initially averaging less than 5,000 steps daily, participants increased their activity to 10,000 steps or more over 12 weeks.

 The study revealed that this increase led to lower depression scores, suggesting a notable improvement in mood with an elevated step count.

Let’s not overlook its psychological aspect. For some individuals, aiming for this metric may feel intimidating. leading to discouragement. Others might feel pressured to meet this target, causing further anxiety and fixation on this number. The obsession over numbers is not healthy. 

Also the motivation to achieve this number can be short-lived,. 

In a well-known study conducted in Ghent, Belgium, residents were given pedometers in 2005 and encouraged to walk 10,000 steps daily for a year. Of the 660 participants who completed the study, only about 8 percent managed to meet the daily goal. However, in a follow-up study four years later, nearly none of the participants were still walking that much. Instead, most had returned to their original step count, taking roughly the same number of steps as they did before the study began.

Finally, is there a magic number?

The ideal daily step count depends on several factors like age, health, present fitness level, and fitness goals. In short, the magic number varies from person to person. 

If their daily step count typically falls in the couple thousand range, aiming straight for 10,000 steps may not be realistic. However, one can gradually increase it by 50 steps, then 100 steps, and so forth as their fitness improves.

For those in physically demanding jobs where they reach 10,000 steps during the workday, they might not even need to add extra steps after work. Instead, they could focus on core training, or work on improving their flexibility.

The important thing is every step matters—whether it's 10,000, 7,000, or even just 2,000.

After all, look at the benefits. For starters, it can reduce the risk of common health problems, like dementia, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. 

How can that be achieved? 

  1. Take the stairs instead of the lift.
  2. If possible, walk during your phone calls
  3. Schedule walks during your lunch break
  4. Walk while waiting 
  5. Take evening walks with friends to increase your step count 
  6. Listen to your favourite podcast or music while walking

If reaching 10,000 steps feels daunting, experts suggest adding 2,000 steps to the existing daily routine. For those unable to walk as much, incorporating daily strength exercises using body weight or weights is also beneficial.

The idea is to increase the level of physical activity over the existing amount to avail the health benefits. 

So 10k or 7k, let’s just get those steps counting.  

 

 

Category : Health and Wellness


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Written by Madhuwanti Saha

Writer, Journalist , Photographer