May is National Walking Month, and what better way to kick off than with some myth busting - that you may actually be very grateful for. Most fitness-tracking devices are set to a default goal of 10,000 steps – the famous number that we all know we ‘should’ reach. But where has this magic number emerged from? Years and years of refining data to find out how many steps a day might be ideal for long-term health? Read on to bust that myth!
So where has this number come from?
Interestingly, the idea of needing to do 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy came from Japan. It didn’t come from studies, research, or science but from a pedometer sold in 1965. One of the first devices for counting steps – it was called “Manpo-kei” (pronounced, man-po-kay) which translates to “10,000 steps metre”. This clever marketing tactic stuck and it’s now touted as the ideal number of steps per day almost everywhere.
Now, don’t get us wrong… setting and achieving a daily goal like 10,000 steps can be a great way to increase our activity levels and improve our overall health. But if we’re not clocking that many steps a day we shouldn't be discouraged.
This 10,000 steps a day goal is one of those prescriptive, one size fits all approaches that we at Beingwell are not fans of. Someone who’s on their feet all day - a nurse, a parent of a toddler, the dog walker - might easily reach and even surpass this goal. While someone who works in an office, or their WFH office, who doesn’t get the chance to be on their feet all day may not even come close! Then they’re left disheartened, and can become very hard on themselves. And for those who are unable, those with disabilities or illnesses that prevent them moving and walking around easily - if at all - might be totally excluded from this kind of ‘advice’.
Bust that myth!
Research suggests that walking as few as 4,400 steps a day is actually beneficial! Music to some of our ears, we’re sure!
A study carried out by Harvard Medical School tracked nearly 18,000 women over 4 years. They found that, on average, 4,400 steps a day is enough to significantly lower our risk of ill health and increase our lifespan. In addition, it didn't seem to matter if the people who did those steps were power walking or just pottering around the house or garden.
People who walked more steps each day had a lower risk of dying but interestingly, this levelled out at around 7,500 steps. The researchers found no difference between walking 7 and a half thousand steps and 10,000. So, no additional benefits were seen with more steps.
If you’re already as fit as a fiddle and easily walk loads of steps a day then this isn’t an excuse to suddenly become a couch potato (sorry). But, if you have been setting a target of 10,000 steps a day that feels a bit overwhelming or unachievable then be realistic and aim for less.
“Recently I changed my smartwatch target to 7,500 and instead of getting halfway and thinking “I’m never going to reach 10,000 I may as well not try” I now think “Ohh I’ve nearly done it! Not much more left!” - Beingwell family member
So however we get more steps in, whether it’s dancing in the living room, mooching to the shops, meeting a friend for a walk and a talk, or trekking in the wilderness, let’s all try and walk just a little bit more and not worry about hitting the 10,000 mark.
The takeaway: (not from deliveroo, sorry!) Having daily step goals might work for you, even inspire you to keep active. Count if it’s motivating but do remember there’s nothing special about 10,000 steps after all. Set a goal that’s right for you, it might be more, it might be less - or you might just throw that tracker from the last office-wellbeing-incentive straight out the window!