Should you really aim for 10,000 steps per day?

For those of us who never leave home without a fitness tracker, we are well aware that 10,000 steps per day is the typical goal for a day’s activity. It takes over 2,000 steps to walk one mile, so 10,000 steps would be almost 5 miles.

But is there any medical reason to embrace this number?

Well, not really.

Walking 10,000 steps per day for health and weight loss was originally popularized more than half a century ago in Japan. Pedometers became all the rage in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. At the time, a Japanese company came out with a device called a ‘manpo-kei’, which means 10,000 step meter. The ‘manpo-kei’ became a business slogan which resonated with people. Since then, 10,000 steps has become a commonly acknowledged goal for daily fitness across the world.

But what do official sources say?

Its not a simple answer and it really depends on which official source you go to. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. This equates to roughly 7,000-8,000 steps per day. The UK National Obesity Forum says that a person who walks between 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day qualifies as “moderately active”. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends a daily walk of 8,000 to 10,000 steps.

So what target should you aim for?

Aiming for 10,000 steps is a worthy target and a nice round number. But there is no one-size fits all approach and your step goal can shift over time. It depends on many factors such as your weight, age and health, for example. Generally speaking, most of us would benefit from walking more. The average American walks around 5,000 steps a day, significantly less than the 10,000 number. Some do quite a bit more, and for them 10,000 steps might not be much of a target.

Unless you have a very active lifestyle or profession, it is difficult to log 10,000 steps just with daily activity. You would need to achieve this by one or more sustained walks or runs every day lasting around 30 minutes. That roughly corresponds to the minimum daily exercise recommendation by most health authorities to reduce health risks.

Essential reading: Why sitting is slowly killing you, and what you can do about it

Sometimes overlooked as a form of exercise, walking can improve your health, help you build stamina and burn excess calories. Research suggests that the more activity you do the better. So go on, challenge yourself.

A recent study on postal workers in Scotland suggests that there is nothing wrong with aiming even higher. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, scientists strapped fitness trackers to 111 Glaswegian mail carriers aged between 40 and 60. It found that those mail carriers who covered at least 15,000 steps, typically had normal body mass indexes and no heightened risk for cardiac disease.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets for 2017

While these findings do imply that there are good reasons to get up from our desk chairs, if you’re not very active you should build your steps gradually. No one expects a higher number on the first day! The Mayo Clinic recommends that people using pedometers first set short-term goals, such as taking an extra 1,000 steps daily for one week, and then build up to a long-term goal such as 10,000 steps.

And remember. Sure, 10,000 steps is great. It burns about 400 calories. But if you follow that up by buying a 500 calorie hamburger, you are back where you started!

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