Without appearing too controversial, I think I’m happy to say that unless you have been living in a hole for the past ten years, you should have heard about walking 10,000 steps every day.
10,000 steps have become the “go to” amount for getting enough exercise, health insurance companies use it as a measure for activity and those of us with an activity tracker have probably marched around the bedroom before bed as a last-ditch attempt to reach this sometimes elusive target.
I’ll let you into a little secret. I sometimes wave my hand around in an effort to get even more steps.
Where does this target come from? Why are we all so fixated on hitting it and does it really do us any good anyway?
Let’s take a look.
10,000 Steps – Origins
You could be forgiven for thinking that the total of 10,000 steps had been thought up by boffins in an under-ground sports laboratory, as being the best amount for maintaining optimum health. The number sounds high enough and it is used by so many organisations worldwide that it couldn’t have been any other way, right?
Well, you would be wrong.
The total of 10,000 came from a Japanese publicity campaign in the mid 1960’s. A company called Yamasa had invented the world’s first wearable pedometer and wanted to boost sales on the back of the extremely popular Tokyo Olympics. It’s step counter called “Manpo-Kei” which means, “10,000 step meter” went on to become very popular and pave the way for wearable fitness technology in the following years.
How did Yamasa come up with the number? In Japan, it was thought that the average person walked around 4,000 steps per day. Officials were worried that as a country, Japan had adopted the lazy ways of the USA and were starting to become overweight. They believed that by encouraging its citizens to walk 10,000 steps a day instead, everyone would burn off an extra 500 calories per day.
However, there was no real scientific basis to back this up. But this didn’t stop the number from being adopted by most major health organisations around the world. 10,000 has become so ingrained into our collective consciousness that it is taken as read that it must be true.
Is there any validity to the 10,000 step total? Should we be doing more steps every day or would we benefit from doing less but at a higher intensity? There have been many studies over the past few years looking at these questions.
This study called “How Many Steps/Day are enough? For Adults.” calls into question just that. Would the 10,000 steps be too many to help the health of those carrying them out every day or would walking 10,000 steps not be enough to see any real benefits?
This study asks the question a different way. What would be the minimum number of steps needed to keep an average adult fit and healthy?
Would this be more realistic? Walking 10,000 steps every day without any real purpose or intensity can take an awful long time.
The study collected all the results they could find from other studies worldwide.
8 of these studies we controlled and were completed using either treadmills or hallways where the effects of the exercise could be properly measured.
What they found was interesting.
Most Government advice from around the world asserts that you should carry out around 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, every week. This should be enough to ensure that you are able to stay fit and healthy and be less at risk of developing diseases such as, heart disease, cancer, dementia or diabetes.
This broken down further means you should exercise for 30 mins, 5 days per week.
The findings from the study concluded that 3,000 steps should be enough to do that.
“Only 3,000 steps?”
I can almost hear you say that you could do this before breakfast. Easy!
There is however a caveat to this result and that is the steps should be of a moderate to vigorous intensity.
I’m sorry but, shuffling around your front room in your dressing gown just isn’t going to cut it.
The ideal step rate or cadence should be around 100 steps per minute to count as being moderate of vigorous. To walk 1,000 steps should ideally take 10 minutes.
So, I’m sure you will have worked this out already but to walk 3,000 steps at a moderate to vigorous intensity should take 30 minutes. Exactly the amount of time that NHS guidelines say you should be exercising every day.
To get the best effects though, the time spent walking should last at least 10 minutes.
But, surely walking more than the 3,000 steps every day should be even better?
There is evidence to suggest this but again it comes down to intensity and there is the law of diminishing returns to think about.
This study tells us that women that stepped between 5,000 and 7,500 per day had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than those that stepped less than 5,000.
But there were no significant differences between the BMI of those that walked 7,500 per day and those that walked over 10,00 per day.
Sometimes more isn’t always better.
The initial study did draw up a table for the optimum number of steps that should be taken.
What I Think
There were a few points that stood out for me whilst I wrote this article.
The quality of the steps we take are really important. They must be of a moderate to vigorous intensity for us to benefit. And the sessions should last at least ten minutes per time. The daily accumulation of steps that we get from walking to and from the photocopier aren’t really going to cut the mustard I’m afraid. If we are looking at quality over quantity then we have to make sure the quality is there already.
The differing accuracy of the devices that we use can also be seen as a problem. I will admit that with the availability of high-tech wrist worn devices, the accuracy must have gotten better. But I know there will still be differences between different manufacturers etc… Some of the totals given are still an approximation and shouldn’t be taken as gospel.
Another point that to think about is that the guidelines, taken from the NHS regarding move totals are the minimum. We should be doing this every week.
To be really fit and healthy we should definitely be doing more exercise. But more than that we should also be looking very carefully at what we are eating. The road to health (and that little black dress) doesn’t just take 3,000 steps a day to walk down. There’s a lot more to it than that.
Finally, I was very surprised that although the total of 10,000 steps per day was plucked from the air with very little science to back it up, it wasn’t far off the mark.
So, maybe hitting 10,000 steps every day isn’t such a bad thing after all? I think it’s always better to do something rather than nothing.
Be all you can be
Do you manage to walk enough during the day or do you struggle? Let me know in the comments section below.