Practically everyone has heard of the idea that for optimal health, we are supposed to walk for 10,000 steps a day.
But where did this 10,000 steps a day standard come from? Where are the studies and what is the evidence?
Let’s dig into it and find out exactly where the 10,000 steps a day recommendation came from and what the actual science says about how many steps we should take.
Where Did The 10,000 Steps a Day Myth Come From?
Believe it or not, the 10,000 steps a day recommendation is not based on any studies or science to speak of!
This officially makes the 10,000 steps a day standard a myth.
The origin is from an advertising campaign based in Japan to sell pedometers. From 1965!
Soon afterwards, Western culture adapted this 10,000 steps a day standard to promote a healthy activity level and again, to sell pedometers and tracking devices.
As with many of our old health stand-bys, this idea was created to fuel the great capitalist machine and sell products.
The Science Behind How Many Steps We Need Per Day
So, now we are left wondering how many steps do we need per day really?
If the super popular 10,000 steps a day myth is not applicable, what do we do instead?
Well, there have been studies on this and the answer is not so clear.
This is a good thing because in actuality, there should never be a “one size fits all” answer to something like this.
Everyone’s body and needs are unique. What is a healthy amount of steps for one person could be drastically different for someone else.
The number of steps someone needs is influenced by the following:
- current health status
Moreover, not all steps are created equal. One person’s 10,000 steps may be drastically different than another persons.
This is based on:
- walking intensity
- walking distance
- body weight
- pushing a stroller or carrying a bag
Research on Optimal Number of Steps
Recent studies on the effect of step counts on health have shown that the number of steps we take can have some impact.
While 10,000 steps a day is not a magic number, the science does show that:
“[A]mong older women, taking as few as 4,400 steps per day was significantly associated with lower risk of death compared to taking 2,700 steps per day. Risk of death continued to decrease with more steps taken but leveled off at around 7,500 steps per day.” (source)
Other studies have shown that, in people who typically walked less than 5,000 steps per day, increasing steps to 10,000 for a 12 week period was shown to help reduce:
- feelings of anger
- tension and stress
- mood distress
- body fat
- body fat percentage
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What To Focus on Instead Of 10,000 Steps a Day
The interesting news is – you do not have to worry about wasted money if you, like me, have bought one of those fancy tracking watches.
The evidence does support the use of pedometers and exercise trackers.
People of all ages do see positive results from being aware of their movement through the day.
Plenty of research has shown that we are more consistent with our healthy habits when we track them and pay attention to them.
In this way, exercise trackers function as a sort of accountability to ourselves that has proved to be beneficial. So don’t stop wearing your FitBit! Just don’t be concerned with the number reaching 10,000 steps a day.
High-Intensity Exercise can take the Place of 10,000 Steps a Day
Another thing to note is that higher-intensity exercise is better for cardiovascular health than steady-state exercise such as walking.
So instead of being obsessed with number of steps, pay some attention to the intensity of those steps.
The Physical Activity Guidelines found that, after looking over the research, higher-intensity exercise improves cardiovascular health at a much greater rate than steady-state walking.
So, if you have a choice between expending your energy on long walks to get to your 10,000 steps a day, or using it to do a 20-minute HIIT workout, you should give high credence to the higher intensity workout option. At least a couple of times per week, if cardiovascular health is important to you (which it should be!)
Just remember, numbers are arbitrary. What really matters is results and how the use of your time is serving your goals.
Try these workouts:
The bottom line is that, stressing over an arbitrary number is never going to serve you. Even half the amount of the golden 10,000 steps a day rule will help you reduce all-cause mortality.
More importantly, this number is pure myth and was created to sell pedometers in the 1960s.
Although there is great evidence that walking, especially in nature, is shown to dramatically improve mental and physical health in many ways.
Moving every day is important, as is making sure to participate in high-intensity physical activity.
You, and your exercise routine, are more than just a number 😊.