The myth of 10,000 daily steps

You may have heard that the optimal number of steps to take per day is 10,000. As a matter of fact, we talked about it too, and before you think we misled you, just know that no, we did not. There is truth in that number, only it is not about the number itself as much as its meaning. Like all numbers, “10,000 steps a day” has the charm of precision and of the perfect formula: it is so round that it can’t help but be effective, right? And then, come to think of it, it’s big enough to detect some physical exertion (the kind intense enough to make you think, “It’s working because I can feel the fatigue”) but still sustainable.

After all, how many is 10,000 steps? For an adult person, it’s about 8 km, a distance that, covered on foot, is not unattainable on a normal day.

Why specifically 10,000 steps?

It is not surprising to discover that the origin of this number is, as is often the case, a marketing stunt. It was the year 1964 and Yamasa, a Japanese manufacturer of electronic equipment, sought to capitalize on the success of the Olympics that had just ended in Japan by marketing a pedometer called “Manpo-kei.” Which means, guess what–exactly: “10,000 steps.”
Why was that particular number chosen? For the reasons said before: because it was big enough, it was precise, and it was not impossible to be reached by a human being.

So, how many steps do you really need?

A study published last year and based on a significant number of adults (2,110) and especially over a period of nearly 11 years, made it possible to set a limit, or rather to figure out exactly how many steps are advisable each day.

What did this study find? Analysis over such an extended period of two groups divided exclusively into those who accumulated more than 7,000 steps per day and those who walked less, showed what we are most interested in: those who walked less developed a mortality risk between 50 percent and 70 percent higher than those who walked more. How much more? At least 7,000 steps, indeed.

The analysis also verified that mortality risk is reduced when walking at least 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day, but also that walking more does not affect the likelihood of death past age 60.

Should this persuade us to stop exactly at the 7,000 mark every day? Of course not. The benefits of physical activity, as we know by now, are other and numerous: it improves blood circulation, tones the mood, is good for the brain, ages better because it keeps the body functioning without overloading the joints, and a thousand other reasons.

7,000 is more feasible than 10,000

The most positive side of this research is that it was able to indicate a lower and less intimidating number of steps per day. Therefore, it should not be taken as a reference by those who are already moving and walking every day but more importantly, instead, by those who are more sedentary: 3,000 fewer steps significantly lowers the limit to be reached and may make many people think that perhaps it is worth it.

How many 7,000 steps are in fact in terms of distance?
Approximately 5.6 km. 5,600 meters. What is 5,600 meters? They are 14 laps of an athletic field, or a healthy and not too strenuous walk of a good hour in the city or in the country, or the threshold of a well-being that you can grant your body in exchange for a very manageable physical effort.

(Main image credits: Rachval on – Via Science Alert)


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