Walking 10,000 steps a day is always on the list of things to do to be healthier. 10,000 steps is also the standard goal setting on most fitness trackers and watches. Distance-wise, 10,000 steps is between six and seven kilometres if you are walking – at least that’s what my Apple Series Watch tells me. Leg length and speed does play a role in distance. But who sat down and did the research that gave us this specific, aesthetically pleasing number of 10,000?
How ‘Walk 10,000 Steps a Day’ Really Started
In 1965, a Japanese company created a device to track steps. This device was named Manpo-kei which translated to ‘10,000 steps meter.’ The number that is now the standard ‘healthy’ amount to walk is nothing but a meter marketing tool. Or at least, it started as such. Research has been done to see if this is a healthy amount of steps. But before I delve in, check out these original ads and think about how amazing it is that people have been tracking their steps for 55 years!
The photos above come from Gadgets and Wearables. A website that creates click-bait article titles such as “Ignore that app, 10,000 steps may actually be harmful” to make the over-simplified point that:
“There is no one-size fits all answer to how much we should walk. It depends on many factors such as your weight, age and health, for example. Generally speaking, most of us would benefit from walking more.”Gadgets and Wearables
Studies on the Matter
Humans often act as sheep and will do something just because it’s been done by others. Dr. I-Min Lee is not one of them. Dr. I-Min Lee is an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a researcher on physical activity.
Together with her team, she studied the basis and validity for taking 10,000 steps. Their new study in JAMA Internal Medicine answers two questions about mortality:
- How many steps a day are associated with lowering the mortality rate?
- Does stepping intensity level make a difference in mortality when people take the same number of steps?
This study was all about mortality and not overall health or quality of life. So the concern here is purely living longer and the results show that 7,500 steps a day can achieve that. Whether 10,000 steps can prevent even more deaths, however, is unknown. You can read more about this study here.
Health Benefits of Walking
I am one of those people who scoffsat the idea that walking is exercise. But I spent a month walking 2,000 or less steps a day after switching to working from home. This made me realize that walking makes a huge difference, and health experts agree.
According to Arthritis.org there are 12 main benefits to walking. These include improved circulation, preventing loss of bone mass, living longer, feeling happier, weight loss, muscle strengthening, better sleep, improved joint support, improved breathing, slowing down mental decline, lower Alzheimer risk and improving stamina. I was most surprised about the breath:
“When walking, your breathing rate increases, causing oxygen to travel faster through bloodstream, helping to eliminate waste products and improve your energy level and the ability to heal.”Arthritis
Humans weren’t born to sit at a desk. They say that sitting is the new smoking. While this is not a great comparison, sitting is really unhealthy. Sitting for long periods can lead to weakening and wasting away of the large leg and gluteal muscles. These large sitting or lying down periods increase your risk of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Walking more is easier said than done. Especially if you are working from home. I am trying to get 10,000 steps every day for an entire year and I am currently on day 79. It has been a challenge to say the least. I’ve been sick, drunk, too busy and exhausted but still forced myself to walk on the treadmill. I also try to take steps every hour as regular movement is great for circulation. My watch actually reminds me to stand up every hour for at least a minute.
If 10,000 steps sounds intimidating, then start with a lower goal and build it up! The most important thing is to keep moving and making yourself feel better. Don’t obsess over not reaching a random number invented by a Japanese marketing director over 50 years ago. Then again, that is what I will be doing for a year cause I’m a sheep with a silly goal that’s not backed by science.