Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
If you’re struggling to reach 10,000 steps a day, here’s some good news: the latest science suggests fewer daily steps may be the sweet spot for many of us, depending on our age, fitness and health goals.
There is nothing magical or evidence-based about 10,000 steps a day. So feel free to let go of that goal.
10,000 isn’t the magic number many people believe it to be.Credit: iStock
The notion to take 10,000 daily steps stems from a marketing ploy: as the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics approached, a Japanese researcher decided to nudge his nation to be more active by offering pedometers with a name that loosely translated as “10,000-step meter”. (The Japanese character for the number 10,000 looks a little like a person walking.)
More recently, scientists have come up with evidence-based recommendations about step-count goals. I recently spoke with some of the world’s leading experts on the science of step counting. Here’s their advice.
Your step count goal may be lower than you think
In the past few years, multiple large-scale studies have stepped up, looking closely into how many steps we probably need for our health and longevity. In the largest, published last year in the Lancet Public Health, dozens of global researchers pooled data from 15 earlier step-count studies, some unpublished, covering 47,471 adults of all ages, and compared their typical daily step counts to their longevity.
The sweet spot for step counts was not 10,000 or more. In general, the pooled data showed that for men and women younger than age 60, the greatest relative reductions in the risk of dying prematurely came with step counts of between about 8000 and 10,000 per day.
For people older than age 60, the threshold was a little lower. For them, the sweet spot in terms of reduced mortality risk came at between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day.
Walking more than 10,000 steps a day wasn’t bad for people – it didn’t increase the risk of dying – but also didn’t add much, in terms of reducing mortality risks.
The benefits also weren’t confined to longevity. In other studies, step counts of at least 8000 a day for adults substantially lowered risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, many types of cancer and even sleep apnoea, says Janet Fulton, senior science adviser in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even a small increase in daily steps is good for you
Not managing 8000 steps a day at the moment? Or 6000? Or even 5000? You’re not alone. Before the pandemic, most Australians were averaging 7400 steps a day. And COVID-19 seems to have reduced many people’s daily step counts by 10 per cent or more, according to some recent research, with daily activity levels only slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
How do you begin to increase your step counts? Even very small increases in daily steps are good for you.
“I suggest starting with an increase of about 500 to 1000 steps per day,” says Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences who studies physical activity and was one of the co-authors of the Lancet step-count study.
Other researchers agree.
“We currently consider 500 steps a day as the minimum target for increased activity in inactive individuals,” says Thomas Yates, a professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the University of Leicester in England.
Every week or two, try accumulating another 500 or 1000 steps, Ekelund says, until you reach at least 8000 a day, or 6000 if you’re past age 60.
You don’t need an expensive step counter
“Phones or watches are reasonably accurate,” says I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who studies physical activity.
But not everyone owns a watch or similar activity tracker, Fulton says, while “almost everyone has a smartphone now”. And almost every smartphone, Apple or Android, contains an accelerometer, which is a movement tracker, that can tell you how many steps you take, Fulton says.
These devices are not as accurate as the research-grade accelerometers used in scientific studies, Ekelund says, and their readings may differ enough that your step count will be different from mine at the end of our identical walk.
But these issues are relatively trivial, Yates says. Most phones and other types of trackers “are reasonably reliable,” he says, and if they over- or under-estimate your steps somewhat, they’ll do so “consistently”, so you can track your progress.
A more intractable problem may be that many of us don’t carry our phones all the time, says Charles Matthews, a physical activity epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and another co-author of the Lancet study. If your phone sits on your desk, it won’t count your steps. So, for an accurate measure of total daily steps, bring your phone as you amble. Carry it in your pocket, purse, or hand. The accelerometer should pick up your movements regardless, he says.
Learn step count maths
Here’s some basic step-count maths: 1000 steps is about half a mile. Want to go that extra mile? For most of us, 2000 steps is about 700 metres, depending on stride length. Taking 10,000 steps would mean walking for about eight kilometres.
Speed doesn’t matter
In terms of time, a half-hour of walking equals around 3000 steps for most of us, if we don’t hurry.
The good news is we probably don’t need to hurry. In almost all of the recent studies of step counts and mortality, the intensity of the steps, meaning how fast people walked, didn’t seem to matter much. It’s the overall number of steps they took throughout the day that made a difference.
Intensity is the “icing” on the cake, Matthews says. Walking faster has the potential to amplify the health benefits of walking, but only slightly, he says.
The key is to walk as frequently as you can manage, whatever your pace.
Step goals aren’t about weight loss
Walking is not a calorie zapper. In broad terms, accumulating 2000 steps, which is walking for about a mile, burns about 100 calories for an average adult moving at a strolling pace.
Your typical doughnut contains about 300 calories. An apple has about 100. Even 10,000 steps a day adds up to only about 500 calories.
It’s easier to count steps than minutes of exercise
Why count steps at all? Because, for most of us, it’s a simpler, more-concrete goal than accumulating “150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week”, as the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommends.
“I have stopped trying to explain and prescribe the physical activity guidelines to my patients,” says William Kraus, a professor of medicine at Duke University, who was involved in writing the 2018 guidelines. “They do not understand them and cannot absorb them. I have gone to prescribing steps. I tell them they need to get to a minimum of 7000 steps per day.”
“Some is good, more is better,” Lee says, and the first step is to just get up and take a few steps.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.
Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.
Most Viewed in Lifestyle
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article