I’ve been taking an interest in my daily step count recently. Many of us aim for the magic 10,000 a day. But what’s the science behind it all?
What’s with the number 10,000?
Quite honestly, there’s very little research backing the specific number 10,000, it’s just that it’s a nice round number. The only research really done around this target was simply to show that 10,000 is better than 3 or 4 thousand.
But that research certainly didn’t give any definite statements to say whether doing more than 10,000 would give greater benefits, or whether simply hitting 8,000 or so a day could give similar results.
Those studies are only starting to be thoroughly undertaken now, after the world counting steps for nearly 60 years. Scientists and health professionals are investigating 6000, 8000 and even 12,000 and above.
While these studies still aren’t as thorough and comprehensive as they could be, some results have already been published:
- 10,000 is better than 5,000 or below (classed as sedentary) for weight loss, protection against chronic illnesses, heart disease and certain cancers.
- The “lower limit” for a recommended daily step count is between 6000 and 8000
- Trying to reach 10,000 a day can actually be harmful for people who have traditionally lived a fairly sedentary lifestyle or with heart disease or diabetes and can place undue stress on the body. These people will often try to get to 10,000 rapidly when their bodies are not used to it and can worsen their overall health.
- The “magic number” seems to be closer to 14,000-15,000 (for normal people without pre-existing conditions) to maintain healthy weight and reduce risk of various chronic diseases.
- Step goals in general do not produce huge benefits if you’re simply “pottering around the home”. For maximum benefits, rapid walking pace makes a big difference and mixing up walking with other exercise forms gives the most effective results in terms of weight loss and overall health.
- In older individuals, health benefits, particularly in terms of increased life span, tended to taper out after reaching about 7,500 steps daily.
The biggest takeaway from what research has been performed is that more tends to be better, but don’t suddenly increase your daily count. Instead, slowly work up to more and more and you’ll be able to see the benefits accumulate!