Most of us are aware that one should be walking 10,000 steps a day for keeping healthy and fit. However, the research behind this target might surprise all.
Most of us track our steps count with smartwatches, phone apps or pedometers and are of course thrilled when that all-important daily goal of 10,000 steps is acquired.
There are many debates regarding the accuracy of some of the step-counters and it is obvious that they are blunt in terms of weighing exercise.
If one intends to count steps, the magnitude of one’s goal matters. Most of the tracking devices are set to a default number of 10,000 steps—the famous count that we all know that we should attain.
This could be assumed that this number has come after years of research to identify whether 8,000 or 10,000 or 12,000 might be ideal for long-term health. In fact, no such extensive body of research is present.
The ideal step count number 10,000 dates back to a marketing campaign that was conducted sometime before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A firm started selling a pedometer called the Manpo-Ke—where man means 10,000 PO means steps and Kei means meter. It was widely and immensely successful and the number seems to have lingered on since then.
Ever since the studies have made comparisons of the health benefits of 5,000 versus 10,000 steps and to nobody’s surprise, the greater number is better. But until recently, all the numbers in between had not been studied. Even now they have not all been tested in detail on the general adult population.
A professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and her team selected more than 16,000 women as their target group in their seventies, their number of steps taken per day with the likelihood of dying from any cause was compared.
From the findings, it was observed that the women who took more than 4,000 steps a day had a higher likelihood of being alive than the ones who just did 2,700 steps. It is indeed surprising that such a small difference could have consequences for something as significant as longevity.
Keeping that in logic in mind, one might assume that the more steps they took, the better. For a range of steps that was true but just up to 7,500 steps a day, after which the advantages then plateaued. Any more steps than that made no difference to the life expectancy.
One drawback of the study is that we cannot be certain that the steps are linked to the steps that killed the women targets. The researchers just made those women a part of the study who were fit to walk outside their home and they did ask people to rate their own health however there were some participants who were well enough for walking, but already not well enough for walking much far. In simple words, they just walked fewer steps as they were already not that well and the steps themselves made no difference or whatsoever.
Then there is the question about the optimum step count in psychological terms. The target of 10,000 steps could seem like a high goal to acquire on a per-day basis, which might tempt one not to bother about even trying it.
Failing consistently to achieve the desired goal on a regular basis is dispiriting. For increasing the step count of the most sedentary a lower goal might be better psychologically.
But even then, just counting the steps at all completely robs the pleasure of walking. Jordan Etkin—a psychologist at the Duke University in the United States found that people who kept a track of their steps did walk further, however, they enjoyed it little, saying that it feels more like work.
Counting steps might be counterproductive for the fittest too indicating that should stop once they have reached the magic 10,000 instead of getting fitter by doing more.
What could be concluded from this is that one should set the goal that is right for them? The goal might be more or less, or it might throw your tracker entirely just keep the goal that suits you most.