Why 10,000 steps? Could less be more?

pedometer-10000-stepsPretty much every fitness tracker ships with 10,000 steps as the default movement target. Fitbit recently challenged that with the Alta that reminds us to take 250 steps each hour (or 2,250 steps on the default nine-hour day they recommend).

So where do we get the other 7,750 steps? Do we need them? Of is the whole 10,000 steps thing some random number cooked up by a marketing department as a number that sounds impressive but is quite achievable for most people?

As it happens, there’s a combination of marketing and science in the answer. A recent article at the MyFitnessPal blog found some research that says pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were called “10,000 steps meter”, or manpo-kei. However, Daniel Neides from the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute pointed to research from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center that found average, healthy adults take between 4,000–18,000 steps per day. A 2015 PLOS ONE study found people who increased the number of daily steps from 1,000 to 10,000 lived longer.

The secret, according to much of the research isn’t actually about the number of steps but the amount of time we spend being active.

In other words, if we take 10,000 steps per day (the equivalent of walking about 8km) then we’re probably being active for over an hour and a half per day (assuming you walk at about 5kmh).

So, when it comes to setting a step target each day, don’t worry so much about the 10,000 steps. Aim to spend a couple of hours on your feet. That time can be spent walking or running (good for adding steps), on a bike (good exercise but not great for adding steps), lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises (again, good for you but not great for boosting your step count).

If you spend all day sitting then look for ways to add some activity to your day. Some easy things to do are take the stairs instead of the elevator – even if it’s just for a floor or two. Get off the train or bus one stop earlier on your commute and walk the rest of the way or park the car at the back of the car park rather than hovering for the closest spot.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator – even if it’s just for a floor or two
  • Get off the train or bus one stop earlier on your commute and walk the rest of the way
  • Park the car at the back of the car park rather than hovering for the closest spot
  • Walk to a local park to eat your lunch instead of eating at the desk
  • Play outside with your kids instead of watching a movie or TV

There are lots of ways to add short bursts of activity to your day that aren’t “exercise” that will increase the amount of time you spend being active.

Rather than simply aiming for 10,000 steps – aim for 90 minutes of activity per day. Some of that time might be exercise but finding ways to integrate more activity into your day can be easier than committing to an exercise program you might not be ready for just yet.

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