The 10,000-step-per-day goal has sparked a slew of exercise challenges and is still the default setting on many fitness monitors. Perhaps meeting your step goal, which is around 5 miles, is part of your own wellness routine.
Is getting 10,000 steps every day, however, actually beneficial to our overall health? Is it just another exercise fad?
The 10,000-Step-Per-Day Claim
This standard's origins are a little hazy. However, scholars believe the figure dates back to 1965, when a Japanese manufacturer released a pedometer known as Manpo-kei, which translates to "10,000 steps meter" in English. According to Shawn Arent, PhD, CSCS, professor and chair of the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and director of the sport and science lab, the 10,000-step goal was more about marketing than research.
Clearly, the marketing campaign was a huge success, as the 10,000-step-per-day advice has been embedded in Western culture. This prompted researchers to investigate if achieving that level resulted in any real health benefits. It does, as a matter of fact.
The Scientific Research on the Benefits of 10,000 Steps a Day
In May 2019, JAMA Internal Medicine released one of the most current studies investigating the benefits of 10,000 steps a day. What is the goal? To see if doing more daily steps is linked to a lower risk of death in older women.
More than 16,500 women from the U.S. Women's Health Study, ranging in age from 62 to 101 (with an average age of 72), wore a step counter for at least four days. Their devices tracked the overall number of steps they took each day as well as the intensity of those steps, which they determined using a variety of metrics including the amount of time they spent stepping at a rate of at least 40 steps per minute. After four years, researchers checked in with the women to see how they were doing.
Researchers discovered that sedentary women who walked 4,400 steps per day had a 41% lower death rate than sedentary women who walked 2,700 steps per day. With more steps done, mortality rates decreased until they plateaued at 7,500 steps per day, which is 25% less than the average aim of 10,000 steps. Furthermore, when accounting for total steps per day, researchers found no obvious link between stepping intensity and lower mortality rates.
Other research has looked into the effects of 10,000 steps per day on body composition and heart health. For example, research found that walking 9,500 or more steps per day for 36 weeks helped a group of people who were overweight or obese shed 5.3 pounds and 2 percent body fat while also increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol by 3 milligrams per deciliter.
Despite these well-documented advantages, the 10,000-step goal has certain limits.
For starters, total wellness entails more than just taking steps. Sleep, stress management, and food are all aspects to consider. However, your daily step count may not reflect these habits and activities. Let's face it: if your food is terrible, you don't handle your stress well, or you don't get enough sleep, 10,000 steps won't help you.
Yoga, weight training, rowing, and cycling are examples of exercises that, while useful, do not add significantly to your daily step count. This implies your step count isn't likely to be an accurate reflection of your daily activity.
So Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps per Day?
There isn't anything miraculous about the number 10,000. It's a good goal to have, but it's not the be-all and end-all of health and fitness.
Instead of focusing on a single number or aspect of their health, we encourage people to work on improving a variety of aspects that affect their health, such as sleep, food, stress management, and insufficient exercise.