ARE 10,000 STEPS NECESSARY?

Are the 10,000 steps per day rule fact or fiction? Either way, it has to be a good thing right? We can all agree that being sedentary is not good for our health and well-being. Activity is shown to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes (1).

The actual notion of the 10,000 steps per day was created by a marketing campaign in the 1960s by a Japanese company who had created a step counter.

Their sexy tagline was "Let's walk 10,000 steps per day" which was at the time extremely popular. But in hindsight, it could have been called "Let's walk 5,000 or 1000 steps per day," and everyone would have most likely still participated.

In modern society with all our new gadgets and technology, we love collating numbers and comparing them from day to day. If we look at the situation holistically, all we really want to achieve is an increase in our daily physical activity or total weekly activity, which should be the priority over actual step counting.

If we still enjoy collating the numbers, experts suggest tracking our weekly time spent on activity over the number of steps. For example, if we go for a 10km bike ride, are we really going to feel guilty that we have missed out on our steps that day? No. The UK Government and American physical activity guidelines suggest (2):

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week.

Or

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity with strength exercises on 2 or more days.

Or a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. This could be 2 x 30 minutes of tennis and a 30-minute brisk walk.

We usually would accumulate 10,000 steps over a full day, however, if we completed the 10,000 steps (5 miles) in one go, what would this equate to? Using METs, we can compare activities that would be a similar caloric expenditure.

METs

The MET concept (Metabolic Equivalent) is a practical and easily understandable way of calculating the energy cost of physical activities. Our bodies approximately use 5 calories of energy for every 1 litre of the oxygen we breathe in (3). The more oxygen we consume during physical activity, the more calories we melt away.

So, what sort of activities can we complete that would be equal to the 10,000 steps per day?

Let’s say our walking pace was 5 miles per hour, this would deliver our 10,000 steps within the hour. This would be a MET equivalent of “8.3 METs" (3). Other activity examples that would provide 8.3 METs would be;

  • Swimming front crawl 50 yards at a brisk pace
  • Running a 12-minute mile
  • Participating in 30-minute Step Aerobics class

So, the concept of 10,000 steps per day may still be useful for people, and that's awesome. But it’s not for everyone. A sedentary but otherwise healthy person who does not exercise regularly might take around 6,000-8,000 steps per day in the course of their regular everyday duties.  But the actual range can be as vast as 4,000-18,000 indicating some will require less and some will require more (4). Some fitter individuals may benefit up to 20,000 steps per day. We also need to take into account healthy older adults (65+) who on average take 2,000-9,000 steps per day and people with disabilities, or chronic conditions (depending on condition) take 3,500- 5,500 steps per day (5).

It is suggested that whoever we are if we go above and beyond our typical daily activity levels, this would elicit significant health benefits. Roughly involving 3,000-4,000 extra steps within a 30-minute walk.

So, the 10,000 steps are still a worthy candidate when it brings movement and activity to people’s daily consciousness. We know physical activity will benefit our health and some ideas or concepts will be ideal for some people, but not all people. As long as we are all striving to be more active in whatever way we can, we can promote and sustain a more significant living.

Resources

  1. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/exercise
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832868/uk-chief-medical-officers-physical-activity-guidelines.pdf
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mets-activity-table
  4. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-8-80#Sec1
  5. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-8-79
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