Is 10,000 steps a day the key to a healthy lifestyle?

23 Jan 2020
Katelyn Steenvoorden

Is 10,000 steps a day the key to a healthy lifestyle?

If you look around at work, at the gym, or on the streets, you are likely to see most people wearing Apple watches, Fitbits, or other technology on their wrists. ‘Wearable tech’ is the new fad that old and young alike are being drawn towards. It helps us track our exercise, our calories burned, and most prominently, our steps taken. Many gadgets automatically set a goal of 10,000 steps, and even if you don’t partake in wearable tech, you probably have it ingrained in your mind that you should reach 10,000 steps every day. With 10,000 as the goal for healthy living, we might assume that it’s the magic number to help eliminate our risk for heart disease, clear up our skin, give us the body of Beyoncé… right? Well turns out there is less scientific evidence to the magic number than we might think. Only now are researchers beginning to look into the effects of achieving 10,000 steps a day.

But first, where did the marker of 10,000 come from?

The benchmark actually has no relation to science at all— but rather started as a marketing scheme. In 1965, a Japanese company made a gadget before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics called Manpo-kei, which translates to ‘10,000 steps meter’ [1]. The gadget was successful, and the number seems to have stuck in popular culture since then.

What does the evidence show?

It’s widely accepted that physical activity is associated with positive health outcomes. In the healthcare community, the consensus is that the more movement an individual can safely engage in, the better. However, 10,000 steps per day does not seem to be the magical number for everyone. For example, Lee et al found that in a sample of 16,741 older US women, just 4,400 steps per day decreased all-cause mortality (compared with 2,700 steps), continuing to decrease until about 7,500 where the benefits seem to level off [2]. While there could have been other pre-existing health factors affecting mortality rates within the study, it does serve as a bout of encouragement for those who lead lives where 10,000 steps every day can be difficult, especially older adults. Another study by Schmidt et al (2009) using cross-sectional data on adults and young adults indicated that taking more than 5,000 steps a day is associated with better health. [3].

So what should we aim for?

Since there seems to be no single magic number fit to everyone, a better goal seems to be to try to increase your own daily step count. According to data from multiple studies compiled by Bravata et al (2007), increasing daily step count by an average of 2,500 can lead to modest weight loss and decrease in blood pressure [4]. Therefore, taking a walk at lunch or a light fitness class at the local gym can make a difference no matter your age or physical fitness level. Wearable tech is a good way to track progress and can certainly be a motivational tool for increasing movement throughout the day. No matter how many steps a person is able to do in a day, it seems that pedometer trackers, like the wearable tech that have become so popular today, can motivate people to increase their physical activity [4]. As long as wearers use the technology in a healthy way, it seems to have a positive effect.

While 10,000 steps a day may not be the key to unlock the door to lifelong healthy living, the important part is that we all make daily decisions to move a little more. Even small increases can begin to have a large effect, and unlike many other measures of physical activity, steps are easy to quantify. So throw on your Fitbit and suggest a walk in the park next time you’re catching up with a friend because all the steps you take are a step in the right direction.

References

[1] Hammond, Claudia. 2019. Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day? BBC [online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190723-10000-steps-a-day-the-right-amount (Accessed 11 November 2019).

[2] Lee, I-Min, et al. 2019. Association of step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older women. JAMA Internal Medicine [online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31141585 (Accessed 11 November 2019).

[3] Schmidt, MD, et al. 2009. Cardiometabolic risk in younger and older adults across an index of ambulatory activity. Am J Prev Med [online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19765498 (Accessed 11 November 2019).

[4] Bravata, DM, et al. 2007. Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review. JAMA [online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18029834 (Accessed 11 November 2019).