You’ve heard from an instruction manual of your new wearable health device or from a blog post that taking 10,000 steps a day is good for you.
It makes sense. Exercise is clearly good for your physical and mental health. And 10,000 has a nice, scientific ring to it. But what that pamphlet or article touting 10,000 steps didn't tell you is that, up to now at least, that number had absolutely no research behind it. It was dreamed up by a Japanese marketing campaign to tout their new step tracker off the momentum of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Research done by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which was recently published in JAMA Network Open, followed 2,110 middle-aged adults who had worn a step-counting fitness device beginning in 2005 or 2006 for 11 years. Were those who managed 10,000 steps a day less likely to meet an untimely end, or did some other number seem matter more?
The average person takes 3,000 steps a day or approximately 1.5 miles. The researchers determined, as expected, that getting more exercise is good. Six thousand steps beat 5,000 and 5,000 beats 4,000 for health outcomes. But they didn't find anything particularly special about 10,000 steps (except going much beyond it brought no additional health benefits at all). Instead 7,000 steps seemed to be an important inflection point. Taking that many steps reduced participants' chances of premature death by 50 to 70 percent.
That doesn't mean you shouldn’t walk more. The more you move, the more calories you burn--so if your goal is losing weight, longer walks are likely to be more effective. And on the cognitive side, a huge amount of research shows that walking can help improve your creativity and may even help keep your brain young. Plus, it's a big, beautiful world out there. On your feet is a wonderful way to explore it.
But if your aim is simply to stay healthy and reduce your chances of an untimely end, this study shows there's nothing magical about the number 10,000. If your fitness device says you managed less steps than that one day, don't feel obligated to trudge around the block in the dark until you hit your daily target. When it comes to maintaining health, 7,000 steps will do just fine.
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