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The Myth of 10,000 Steps a Day

March 24, 2022

You may have heard that 10,000 steps a day is the ideal goal for staying healthy and active. The idea has been around a while. As fitness trackers become more and more ubiquitous, you may see the number of steps you take each day and be somewhat disappointed. In our busy lives, it can be hard to get up to reach the goal of 10,000 steps per day.

As it turns out, the idea of 10,000 steps a day is most likely the result of a very successful marketing campaign!

“There used to be this notion of 10,000 steps a day that a lot of people have heard about, but that came from one of the earliest makers of a pedometer or step counter; they used it as a marketing strategy,” said Dr. Cindy Lin, a clinical associate professor of Sports & Spine Medicine in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

So don’t feel bad if you aren’t hitting this made-up metric! Regular physical activity is good for your health, and the number of steps you take each day is a meaningful metric. But 10,000 is more than what most people need to get in a day. A recent study in partnership with the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) showed that 7,000 was the sweet spot for the number of steps per day. The study followed 2,100 adults between the ages of 38 and 50 and found that those who took at least 7,000 steps per day had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality over a period of ten years. This aligns with what researchers discovered in an earlier study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital whose team tracked the steps of 16,741 women. Researchers followed the group of women, whose average age was 72, over a period of four years. Of the 504 who died following the study, more than half were in the cohort that walked the least, about 2,700 steps a day on average. The data showed that risk of mortality decreased the more steps the women took, before leveling off at 7,500 steps.

Aiming for more physical activity is a great goal for your health. No matter where you start, any increase in your physical activity is a positive change.

“It depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re only walking 3,000 steps a day, even walking 4,000 or 5,000 is a good thing for your heart health and for how you’re feeling,” Lin said.

You can aim to increase your physical activity in small ways. Try these tips to get moving more:

  • Park farther away from your destination. If you usually choose the closest spot to the grocery store door, park a few rows back instead.
  • Set a timer. If your work is sedentary, set a time to get up and walk around for a few minutes once every couple of hours. You might be surprised how quickly those steps add up!
  • Take the stairs. Instead of getting into the elevator, take the stairs whenever you can.
  • Walk and talk. Take your phone calls on the go! Walking while talking on the phone, if you can do it safely, is a great way to get some movement into your day.

Remember, any exercise that you enjoy will be easier than forcing yourself into an activity. If you enjoy yoga, swimming, or tai chi, continue what is working for you. Your physician can help you decide what is a safe and effective level of physical activity for your individual needs.

Source: IlluminAge Communications