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The myth of walking 10,000 steps a day

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The myth of walking 10,000 steps a day improves health and reduces the risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, or excess cholesterol. But is that accurate and scientifically proven?

For years, fitness gurus have claimed that to be healthy, you must walk 10,000 steps a day. Many of us began walking more and wearing pedometers to help count our daily steps, but if you want to live longer and be healthier and fitter, here’s why this 10k attitude is completely bogus.

Go on, walk, and walk

An image showcasing the difference in calories burned between a leisurely stroll and a brisk walk
Image showcasing the difference in calories burned between a stroll and a brisk walk

For many individuals, walking is the only feasible form of exercise due to various reasons such as personal preference, time constraints, age, physical conditions, or limitations in participating in other sports. Regular walking, performed daily, has numerous scientifically proven benefits. Numerous studies indicate that both running and walking can reduce the risk of developing hypertension, excess cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease within six years of initiating physical activity.

The most significant benefit is observed in reducing the risk of diabetes, with approximately a 12% decrease associated with both activities. As for cholesterol, hypertension, and coronary heart disease, the risk reduction is close to 9 per 100 individuals. The key is to engage in physical activity that raises the heart rate to 120-140 beats per minute for at least 45 minutes. It is not necessary to determine whether running or walking is superior; individuals can choose what suits them best.

However, it is important to recognize that health and exercise recommendations tend to be overly generic. These recommendations are often based on statistical data from Anglo-Saxon countries, representing average populations that may not fully reflect the unique characteristics of all cultures, regions, and dietary habits.

When your doctor, a fashion blogger, or a fitness magazine suggests increasing your walking activity, it may be unclear whether the advice applies to you or an older resident of Wisconsin. Are the implications the same? Does it disregard factors such as diet, smoking habits, or overall enjoyment of life? Is simply walking a specific number of daily steps sufficient for maintaining good health? (10,000 steps).

The recommendation of the 10,000 steps per day

We like round numbers. This official figure is usually recommended, which is why it has the most studies. In this article, I will not go much deeper into studies because it is evident that we all need to move more daily. If you’re a postman or work in a warehouse back and forth or something similar, you’ve got it done.

Effects of the 10,000 steps on overweight people

In this study, 38 sedentary and overweight people, after walking a daily average of more than 9,500 steps over 36 weeks, improved body composition (-1.9% fat and lower waist and hip measurements) and cardiovascular health markers (HDL).

Low-fitness sedentary people will benefit from including daily walks, but if you train and spend the rest of the day sitting down, do you need it?

Spending a lot of time sitting destroys the benefits of exercise

In this study, they found that spending a lot of time sitting overstepped the improvement in a cardiovascular marker (postprandial triglycerides) expected after an hour of running on the tape.

Besides, several of you have told me about improvements after limiting your time sitting. If I spend a couple of days sitting down for a couple of days, I notice that my lower back bothers me, and as I spend an hour walking, it makes it go away most of the time.

See also
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We’re going to stop theory and move.

10,000 steps are the key to better cardiovascular health

That’s been the fetish number for hikers. Exercise tables recommend it, mobile apps warn you, and neighbors cackle you. Walking 10,000 steps is the goal. Or it was. Because in recent months, a new skeptical theoretical current has begun to emerge: 10,000 is a myth, do not obsess about achieving it. And science starts to explain why.

In many countries, health and wellness guidelines say that adults should do moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. Walking is considered moderate exercise. At least walk at a reasonable speed. But many experts are beginning to suspect such advice is not helpful. Count the exercise in minutes. It’s like advising that we eat 50 minutes of vegetables weekly. Hence he has gained fame in the accounting of the steps. It’s easier to understand and measure.

If you dive into the scientific literature, surprise strikes: virtually no studies show that a certain number of steps are better than another. Among other reasons, to carry out this work, you have to accurately monitor the steps that the subjects of the investigation take up to date and the conditions under which they give them. Studies are usually based on statistics based on the volunteers’ stories: I assure you that I have walked 30 minutes, and the researcher deduces the number of steps I have taken. Reliable? Not much.

10,000 steps a day

The myth of walking 10,000 steps a day is just a recommendation. It sounds like minimal training for the health of sedentary people, and you who do your strength training and HIITs think you don’t need to do that extra workout. Well, you’re mistaken.

Walking for an hour and a half daily should be the basis of our daily movement training. Evolutionarily speaking, it doesn’t make sense for us to spend most of the day sitting down and then putting on half an hour at high intensity.

Study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine

In a recent study, the journal JAMA Internal Medicine has brought out the colors to the 10,000-step theory. To this end, the authors have collected vast amounts of data from the Women’s Health Study, an extensive database that collects habits and medical records from thousands of women. Some of them, especially the older ones, wore a high-tech sensor system for weeks that could accurately track how many steps they took each day. The study consisted of monitoring the health of these women for five years.

The data is revealing. Women over 70 who walked less than 2,700 steps a day were at increased risk of dying five years after the study. As the number of steps increased, the mortality risk decreased to a peak: 7,500 steps. From there, you don’t experience improvement any longer than walking. It doesn’t matter if you reach the mythical 10,000. The sustainable average where the most significant benefit appears to reach is 4,500 steps daily. A woman who walks 4,500 steps each day has a 40% less chance of dying from cardiovascular disease or diabetes than one who walks 2,700.

The publication has been quite a surprise; no one expected such a small number of steps (half of what the manuals recommend) to present such positive results. In case it’s not enough, there’s still one more surprise: the intensity of the step doesn’t seem relevant either. Walking even in a gentle way also offers considerable benefits.

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Brisk walk is beneficial

It is unclear whether you could apply these results to other populations. The study has focused on older women. Will the same thing happen with men or young people? You can’t tell yet. For the time being, the work relieves some pressure, especially to groups of the population that, because of their age or physical conditions, are not in a position to perform other types of exercise.

Older people have on the daily walk a great ally to improve their well-being. And it would be best if you didn’t abandon him. But subjecting them to the tyranny of the 10,000 steps can be a mistake. Most studies on the subject say that it is more beneficial in the long run to walk fast for an extended period, well beyond the 20 minutes per day recommended by WHO than to go for a run intensively, especially if the race drags on.

This was demonstrated by a recent experiment by the University of Maastricht, which determined that sedentary subjects who walked at a good pace during and for much longer times showed better insulin receptivity and a lower plasma level of lipids than those who exercised moderately to intensely for shorter periods, always at equal energy expenditure.

The myth of walking 10,000 steps a day

Various studies have debunked the notion of walking 10,000 steps daily to achieve health benefits.

  • Variety in Step Count Targets: A study in Toronto Sun suggests that achieving between 6,000 and 8,000 steps daily can be sufficient for deriving health benefits. The 10,000 steps target, while beneficial, may not be necessary as individuals averaging 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day did just as well as those surpassing the 10,000 steps mark​1​.
  • Lower Step Count Equally Beneficial: A study mentioned by Clearvue Health reveals that 4,500 steps could be nearly as effective as taking more than 8,000 steps. The pacing of these steps also plays a role, with spreading out steps throughout the day more beneficial than accumulating them in a short burst​2​.
  • Reduced Risk of Premature Death: According to a snippet from Penn Live, walking at least 7,000 steps per day could reduce the risk of premature death from all causes for middle-aged individuals by 50% to 70% compared to those who walked fewer steps daily​3​.
  • Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Events: For older adults, a daily step count ranging between 6,000 and 9,000 was associated with a 40% to 50% lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events regardless of the walking pace​4​.
  • Alteration of the 10,000 Steps Goal: A study cited by WebMD challenges the 10,000 steps daily goal for lowering all-cause and cardiovascular death. It suggests that people who walked at least 8,000 steps on one or two days per week were less likely to experience such adverse health outcomes​5​.

These findings support the idea that walking is beneficial for health. However, achieving individual health outcomes and benefits may not require the traditional goal of 10,000 steps. A more personalized approach to daily physical activity goals is needed.

The Importance of Individualized Exercise Programs

Physical activity guidelines and fitness experts emphasize the significance of tailoring your exercise program to your individual goals and health conditions. Consulting with professionals, such as personal trainers, health coaches, or medical professionals, can help you determine the optimal activity level for your fitness levels and specific concerns.

See also
Dive into Cross-Training: Swimming Workouts for Runners

FAQs

Is Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Scientifically Backed?

The 10,000 steps a day target isn’t strictly scientifically backed. It originated as a marketing slogan, though studies have shown health benefits for numbers slightly lower, such as 7,000 to 8,000 steps daily​1​.

Does Walking Less Than 10,000 Steps Offer Health Benefits?

Yes, walking less than 10,000 steps can still offer significant health benefits. For instance, a study found that walking at least 7,000 steps daily reduced the risk of premature death by 50% to 70%​2​.

Is The 10,000 Steps Goal Necessary For Cardiovascular Health?

No, the 10,000 steps goal isn’t necessary for cardiovascular health. A study found that older adults walking 6,000 to 9,000 steps daily had a 40% to 50% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes​3​.

How Did The 10,000 Steps Per Day Myth Originate?

The 10,000 steps per day target originated from a marketing campaign by Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, a Japanese professor, in the 1960s. It has since become a popular generalized goal for daily physical activity.

Are There Alternatives To The 10,000 Steps Goal For Health Improvement?

Yes, focusing on the intensity and frequency of physical activity and incorporating a mix of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises can also significantly contribute to health improvement, apart from merely counting steps.

Conclusion: The Benefits of Diversifying Your Exercise Routine

While walking is beneficial, it is crucial to recognize that incorporating various forms of exercise, such as resistance training and aerobic activities, contributes to overall health and fitness. Adding variety to your routine, including green exercise in nature or engaging in vigorous activities, can provide additional benefits for both physical and mental well-being. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to physical activity; finding what works best for you is key to improving your overall health.

In summary, while walking 10,000 steps a day may have been popularized by a Japanese marketing campaign and wearable pedometers, the evidence supporting this specific number is not definitive. The key takeaway is that any increase in physical activity from your current step count can provide health benefits. Striving to balance daily walking, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for your overall well-being.

References

American Heart Association: The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, per week to maintain cardiovascular health. (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week for overall health and wellbeing. (https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm)

Harvard Medical School: Harvard Medical School has published numerous articles on the benefits of walking, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of chronic disease, and improved mental health. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-surprising-benefits-of-walking)

National Institutes of Health: The National Institutes of Health has conducted studies on the health benefits of walking and found that regular walking can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/benefits-walking-go-beyond-collateral-benefits)