Should we take 10,000 steps a day?
Most of us have heard that we should take 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy and fit. But does the research support this?
Many people nowadays track their steps with smartwatches, step counters or apps and are thrilled when they reach the important daily goal of 10,000 steps.
Of course, the reliability of step counters are not undisputed, after all, they are not ideal when it comes to measuring the actual movement: Regardless of whether you sprint or stroll leisurely, the result is the same. In reality, of course, these two forms of exercise couldn't be more different. Thirty minutes of leisurely strolling should be no problem, but at a full sprint most people are completely out of breath after thirty seconds. Still, pedometers are a good guide to how active you were during the day.
Why is it exactly 10,000 steps?
Most tracking devices are set to a standard goal of 10,000 steps - the famous number we all know we should achieve. One might assume that this number came about after years of research because it would be best for your health in the long run. In reality, there is no such extensive research.
The magic number 10,000 goes back to a marketing campaign that was made in Tokyo in the 1960s just before the Olympic Games. One company started selling a pedometer called Manpo-kei: “Man” stands for 10,000, “po” for steps and “kei” for meters. The success was huge and the number has since established itself in the collective world memory.
Of course, there have also been studies on this, and the results are initially not extremely surprising: if you take 10,000 steps a day, the health benefits are greater than if you only take 5,000 steps. However, until recently there was no data on any number in between. Even today there are almost no studies on the general adult population.
Even so, there is an interesting Harvard study that measured the daily steps taken by 16,000 women older than 70 years. The daily steps taken were compared with the total mortality rate. After a few years, 504 of these 16,000 women had died. How many steps do you think the survivors took? Was it the magical 10,000 steps a day?
In fact, the average number was 5,500 - and mortality was related to the number of steps, with a gradual increase in effectiveness. Women who took more than 4,000 steps a day were significantly more likely to live longer than those who only took 2,700 steps. It's surprising that such a small difference can have ramifications for something as crucial as longevity.
The more the better?
Following this logic, one might assume that the more steps you took, the better. However, this is only partially true, because from around 7,500 steps per day the benefit stagnated and from this number of steps there was no longer any difference in life expectancy.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few studies available on the subject, so the results should be taken with a pinch of salt. It may be that there is no correlation between the number of steps and mortality at all. A single study is not enough to say with certainty because there are simply too many factors that can affect the results.
A question of the mind
The question of the optimal number of steps from a psychological point of view? The 10,000-step goal seems very high, especially to achieve every day. This could make many feel discouraged, which could lead you not to try. If you don't reach your goal day after day, sooner rather than later you lose the desire to try altogether.
So, to increase the number of steps in general, a lower goal is psychologically more beneficial. But even then, you can literally lose your desire to walk. Studies have shown that people who count their steps move more but enjoy it less.
Counting steps can also be counterproductive in other ways - it signals that you can stop as soon as the targeted number of steps has been reached. The job is finally done for the day. You then only do the minimum, so to speak, instead of running a little more and thus becoming even fitter. After all, it's a task and not for pleasure.
Count your steps if this helps you get yourself moving more regularly. Keep in mind, however, that 10,000 steps is nothing more a marketing campaign that's burned into the collective mind. Instead, set your goals so that they are right for you. That can be more or a lot less.
It is less a matter of how many steps you take today or tomorrow, but how regularly you move.
This article is for general information only and should not be viewed as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or other health professional. Always consult your family doctor if you are in any way concerned about your health.