Breaking 10,000 Step Myth: 7 Tips for Step Tracking
If you’re struggling to achieve 10,000 steps per day, here’s some great news: Recent scientific research indicates that fewer daily steps may actually be the optimal goal for many individuals, taking into account factors such as age, fitness level, and health goals.
Revisiting the 10,000 Steps Myth:
The concept of walking 10,000 steps every day is not based on any scientific evidence, but rather originated as a marketing strategy. As the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics approached, a Japanese researcher wanted to encourage his nation to be more active, so he introduced pedometers called “10,000-step meters” (the Japanese character for 10,000 resembles a person walking).
More recently, experts in the field of step counting have provided evidence-based recommendations regarding step-count goals. I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with some of the world’s leading researchers in step counting. Here’s what they advised:
1. Your step count goal may be lower than you think
In the past few years, several large-scale studies have explored how many steps are necessary for optimal health and longevity. The largest study, published in the Lancet Public Health, analyzed data from 15 previous studies involving 47,471 adults of all ages. The results showed that for individuals under the age of 60, the greatest reduction in the risk of premature death occurred with step counts between 8,000 and 10,000 per day. For individuals over the age of 60, the threshold was slightly lower, with the optimal range being between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day. Walking more than 10,000 steps a day didn’t increase the risk of death, but it also didn’t provide significant additional benefits in terms of reducing mortality risks. Moreover, accumulating at least 8,000 steps a day has been shown to substantially lower the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, various types of cancer, and even sleep apnea.
2. Even a small increase in daily steps is beneficial
If you’re currently not meeting the recommended 8,000-10,000 steps per day, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans averaged fewer than 6,000 steps daily. Recent research suggests that daily step counts have decreased by 10 percent or more due to the pandemic, with activity levels slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
So how do you start increasing your step count? Even small increments in daily steps can have positive impacts on your health. Experts suggest starting with an increase of about 500 to 1,000 steps per day. Gradually add another 500 to 1,000 steps every week or two until you reach at least 8,000 steps per day (or 6,000 for individuals over the age of 60).
3. You don’t need an expensive step counter
While high-end watches and activity trackers are reasonably accurate, not everyone owns these devices. The good news is that almost everyone has a smartphone, and smartphones usually come equipped with an accelerometer, which can measure your steps. Although smartphones are not as accurate as the devices used in scientific studies, they are still reliable enough for tracking your progress. It’s important to remember to carry your phone with you throughout the day to ensure an accurate measure of your total daily steps.
4. Learn how to convert steps into distance
Understanding the relationship between steps and distance can help you set goals. Roughly speaking, 1,000 steps amount to about half a mile. For most people, 2,000 steps equal a mile, depending on stride length. To achieve 10,000 steps, you would need to walk approximately five miles.
5. Speed is not the determining factor
When it comes to health benefits, the speed at which you walk doesn’t matter as much as the overall number of steps you take throughout the day. Recent studies have shown that the intensity of the steps, or how fast you walk, doesn’t have a significant impact. The key is to walk as frequently as possible, regardless of your pace.
Walking faster has the potential to slightly enhance the health benefits of walking, but it’s not necessary to rush.
6. Step goals are not primarily about weight loss
Walking is not a major calorie burner. Accumulating 2,000 steps, roughly equivalent to a mile, burns about 100 calories for the average adult walking at a leisurely pace. To put it into perspective, a typical donut contains about 300 calories, while an apple has around 100 calories. Even reaching 10,000 steps per day only burns about 500 calories.
7. Counting steps is an easier way to measure activity
Why bother counting steps at all? For most people, it’s a simpler and more tangible goal compared to tracking minutes of exercise.
Rather than trying to explain the official physical activity guidelines, which recommend “at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity” each week, many experts find it more effective to prescribe step counts. A minimum of 7,000 steps per day is a more straightforward recommendation that individuals can easily understand and incorporate into their daily routines.
Although step goals were not initially included in the 2018 physical activity guidelines due to limited evidence, it is anticipated that they will be included in future recommendations.
In conclusion, the key takeaway is that any increase in daily steps can have a positive impact on your health. The first step is simply getting up and taking a few steps. Remember, some activity is good, but more is better. So start stepping towards a healthier lifestyle today!