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
For many, that’s the only exercise possible. Those who do not feel like it, time, age, physical conditions or are incapacitated for another sport must at least walk. And do it every day. Remember: whoever moves the legs moves the heart. The benefits of a good daily walk are more than scientifically proven. Statistically, countless studies show that both running and walking reduce the risk of developing hypertension, excess cholesterol, diabetes, or coronary heart disease within six years of the onset of physical activity.
The most significant benefit is seen with the risk of diabetes, which is reduced by about 12% with both activities. For cholesterol, hypertension, and coronary heart disease (with a risk reduction close to 9 by 100). The key is to develop a move that increases the heart rate to 120 – 140 bpm (beats per minute) for at least 45 minutes. It shouldn’t necessarily be better than running or vice versa. Everyone can choose their army.
But the truth is that health and exercise recommendations are too generic. They are established from statistical tables, usually of Anglo-Saxon countries and with average populations that do not faithfully represent the peculiarities of all cultures, all regions, all eating habits. When your doctor or fashion blogger or fitness magazine recommends walking more, you don’t know if the notice refers to you or a Wisconsin retiree. Is it the same thing? Doesn’t it matter what we eat, smoke, enjoy life? Is it enough to walk a series of steps a day to be healthy? 10.000.
The recommendation of the 10,000 steps per day
We like round numbers. This is the official figure that is usually recommended, which is why it is the one with the most studies about it. 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 you 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.
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.
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 serves to relieve 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
Pedometers, health apps, and guides recommend it, but the first to do so were the Japanese pacemaker watch manufacturers in 1976. Why? The Japanese spelling of 10,000 resembles a walking man. Manufacturers found it ingenious to use that figure as a metaphor for good health.
There is an ever-growing myth that by walking 10,000 steps a day, you can be on the path to great health. A great number of people who live sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who are looking to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle, strive to achieve this goal.
As it turns out, 10,000 steps are only a guideline. The number is based on an average healthy person from the 1960s. As our lifestyles have changed, these numbers are no longer considered accurate.
The recommendation to walk 10,000 steps daily for better health has been widely spread, but recent studies and experts are challenging its accuracy. While walking is beneficial for cardiovascular health, it is more about the amount of time and intensity of the exercise rather than a specific number of steps. Walking at a moderate to a brisk pace for an extended period, well beyond 20 minutes per day, has shown better results. Older people can benefit greatly from a daily walk, but obsessing over achieving a certain number of steps may not be necessary.
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)
Alex is a passionate fitness enthusiast dedicated to helping people lead healthier, more active lifestyles. He encourages small – sustainable changes over drastic transformations and works with people to create customized wellness plans. His mission is to help others benefit from the most effective methods available, sharing tips, strategies, and health & fitness tools on Gearuptofit.com to inspire people to live their best lives.