Maybe You Don’t Need 10,000 Steps a Day

On Friday we usually like to visit a state, telling you to “Get Out There” and enjoy beautiful views and fun, interesting attractions. We’ll get back to that next week. However, today we’re talking about that magic number we all know “10,000 steps.” We’re told taking 10,000 steps a day is optimal for living our healthiest life. But where did that number come from, and is it true?

So many of us struggle with taking 10,000 steps a day. The time it takes to walk that much when added into our other work, errands and leisure activities is hard to eke out of a day. Some of us aren’t physically able to take 10,000 steps a day. Then, it’s easy to feel guilty or unhealthy because we missed the mark. But, the question is, who decided that should be our goal? Phone apps, the Fitbit and pedometers preach that number but why?

The answer isn’t research-based. A pedometer, released in the runup to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was called the Manpo-kei. The name breaks down to “10,000 steps meter.” The pedometer was a popular product, and the goal number stuck.

Harvard Medical School’s I-Min Lee led new research to see what the optimal number for steps actually is. Looking at mortality for about 17,000 women ages 62 to 101, they examined the risk of dying from any cause. They studied the women for about four years on average and found that the average number of steps for women who didn’t die was 5,500. Life expectancy did increase in correlation to how many steps a participant was taking, but only up to 7,500 steps. After that, it plateaued. In the study, women walking 4,400 steps had a significantly better life expectancy than women who weren’t active. More and more research is showing that even small chunks of physical activity can have real benefits.

Prof. Lee pointed out that the criteria of the study weren’t perfect because they couldn’t measure everything in a person’s life. But, she pointed out that the idea of measuring activity in steps also isn’t perfect. “Some people are not walkers. They don’t have safe neighborhoods, or they feel unsteady on sidewalks,” she said. “You need to be more creative. Is this a person who needs to go to a gym class or the pool, or sit on a stationary bike?

What she and her team thought was the important take away was simple: more activity is healthier than none. Ten thousand steps might not be possible, because of time, location, health or mobility issues. Instead of aiming for 10,000 steps, if you are a predominantly sedentary person, aim for more physical activity than you usually have over the course of the day. It can be as simple as taking extra steps while doing household chores, walking to the mailbox or getting up occasionally. Any activity is better than none and can help your health.

Next week, we’ll be back to our digital road trip around the U.S. Until then, we hope you get out and about. Don’t focus on 10,000 steps; just move around as much as you can: you’ll already be working toward your health goal!
August 02, 2019
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