It’s common knowledge that drinking water, having a balanced diet and good sleep hygiene are all important to our overall health and wellbeing. Of course, another essential factor in a healthy mind and body is exercise.
In recent years, there has been a surge in the use of smartphone apps, fitness tracking devices and pedometers to count the exact number of steps we take daily. These devices are becoming more and more advanced and accurate, but the underlying question is: does the amount of steps we take per day make any real significant difference to our health?
The “10,000 Steps Per Day” Myth
There’s a general idea that the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day is based on scientific research. The origin of where this recommendation arose shows that this is not the case. There’s a wealth of technology nowadays, all designed to accurately track how many steps we take daily. Many people invest in these, give them away as presents and see them as essentials to health.
However, the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps as an everyday practice came from a marketing strategy from an exercise technology company. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Professor I-Min Lee explains that this trend began in 1965, when “a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means the 10,000-step meter.”
What Are the Health Benefits of Taking 10,000 Steps Per Day?
As explained, the exact 10,000 steps number isn’t backed by research and has likely done greater good for the financial stability of exercise companies than it has for public health. However, all forms of exercise are helpful to general health. Professor Lee conducted further research with female participants, showing that at least 2,000 steps a day was enough to significantly promote better health in individuals.
“Regular exercise has a wide range of benefits. Socially, it can increase a person’s ability to feel part of a community. Psychologically, it can reduce anxiety and fatigue, and boost happy hormones. Physiologically, it can contribute to lowered blood pressure, lowered risks of diabetes, obesity, cardiac health problems and so on,” says Anna Jones, writer at NextCoursework and Britstudent.
Also, if having a goal of 10,000 steps is what motivates you to move, then, by all means, stick to that. It’s important to know what works for you.
Is the 10,000-Steps Rule Reducing Exercise Quality?
There is an ongoing discussion on whether or not the seemingly public goal to reach a daily step count of 10,000 is actually reducing the amount of exercise people are getting. Individuals are becoming more focused on the exact number of steps rather than the type of exercise that is important to their health. For example, it is common to hear of people equating 10,000 steps to a session of cardiovascular exercise.
However, Dr Aguiar at the University of Massachusetts elaborates on how walking any distance at a leisurely pace is low-intensity exercise. This does not equate to high-intensity exercise, such as cardiovascular workouts. “Another specialist called Jeff Monaco encourages the idea that 10,000 steps a day (which is roughly a five-mile walk), should be seen as the minimum amount of exercise to be taken daily,” says Giles Smith, a health blogger at 1 Day 2 Write and Write My X.
The main issue here is that though the goal of reaching 10,000 steps may motivate people to exercise, it only promotes low-intensity exercise. A 2019 study with participants in the age range 21-40, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity concluded that walking at a rate of 100 steps a minute represents a moderate walking intensity and walking at a rate of 130 steps a minute represents a vigorous walking intensity. The general idea here is that individuals may benefit more from focusing on the intensity of their daily exercise, rather than the exact number of steps they take.
Overall, human health and longevity are both complicated, with many interacting factors. It is not as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day and including all the elements of a good and healthy life. Federal guidelines for exercise recommend that individuals participate in 150 to 300 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week. Walking can definitely help people reach that goal. However, to promote longevity, it’s best to include a range of exercise intensity into everyday life, in addition to a healthy diet and good sleep.