Taking 10,000 steps a day isn’t based on science. But here’s how it can help

Click to play video: 'Is walking 10,000 steps a day really worth it?'
Is walking 10,000 steps a day really worth it?
Is walking 10,000 steps a day really worth it? – Sep 4, 2018

We’ve all been told to aim for 10,000 steps a day, but where did this number actually come from?

A recent report in the Guardian revealed 10,000 steps is nothing more than an arbitrary figure, a number chosen by a Japanese marketing campaign in the ’60s that simply stuck.

“In an attempt to capitalize on the immense popularity of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the company Yamasa, designed the world’s first wearable step-counter, a device called a manpo-kei, which translates as ‘10,000-step metre,'” the site reported. 

Speaking with the site, David Bassett of the University of Tennessee said at the time, the 10,000-step figure wasn’t based on any type of evidence.  “They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy.”

READ MORE: Is 10,000 steps a day just a made-up number?

Why 10,000?

At the time, researchers at Kyushu University concluded the average person in Japan took about 3,500 to 5,000 steps a day and if they had doubled it to somewhere around 10,000, there would be long-term health benefits.

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And while this is true — taking 10,000 steps is better than taking 3,500 steps — some experts like personal trainer Amanda Thebe told Global News it’s hard for most people to reach this goal.

Ten thousand steps over a day equals around 7.2 to eight kilometres, which can be hard to fit into your day,” she explained.  “For my clients who do extensive workouts in the gym that improve their strength and conditioning, expecting them to then walk 10,000 steps might be unrealistic.”

READ MORE: What’s a better workout — Walking or running?

She adds simply walking doesn’t actually take into account the intensity that is required to improve cardio.

“My goal for people is to get them to move every day in a positive way, that may or may not include walking.”

Thebe first heard about taking 10,000 steps a day when she read an article by David Sedaris  in the New Yorker called Stepping Out in 2014.

“I remember reading [about how he] becomes addicted to his FitBit and trying to exceed his 10,000 step daily target while clearing roadside garbage and doing his daily walks in England. I realized then that people really got on the 10,000 steps-a-day craze.”
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Don’t fixate on the number

And as tempting as it sounds to hit 10,000 steps every day, even as a challenge, start with something more realistic. “For those people whose only form of exercise is walking, I think setting a goal can be a really positive thing and create a sense of achievement.” 

The best way to set a goal is to look at your lifestyle and figure out how you can add more steps during your day-to-day routine.

When you consider that 10,000 steps will take you over an hour and 40 minutes to complete, this might not be achievable in one go,” she added. “But by doing a few things to add extra steps you can certainly make some gains.  Consider getting off the bus or the subway a stop early, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Small things to increase your activity will also count towards your daily goal.”

READ MORE: Long walks are a good form of exercise — but it’s not always enough

And even if 10,000 isn’t realistic, add some type of walking or cardio to your day — the benefits are worth it.

“There is extensive research showing how important walking can be for our overall health, as well as being helpful in weight-loss, boosting mood, [and] some chronic health issues,” she explained. “I really like walking for people starting out with exercises as anybody can do it, especially if they are overweight or have an existing injury. It’s a great way to get the heart pumping while staying fairly low impact.”


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