Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps a day (roughly 5 miles) to maintain your health? Scientifically, there is no evidence that the 10,000 step goal is the picture of physical health. Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, began looking into the step rule because she was curious about where it came from. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’ Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research.
Scientific or not, this bit of branding ingenuity transmogrified into a pearl of wisdom that traveled around the globe over the next half century, and eventually found its way onto the wrists and into the pockets of millions of Americans. In her research, Lee put it to the test by observing the step totals and mortality rates of more than 16,000 elderly American women. The study’s results paint a more nuanced picture of the value of physical activity.
“The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,” Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps—less than a mile of walking—was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.
Making 10,000 steps a day may be difficult for people who have no where to walk safely. Uneven concrete, busy roads, bad weather, slippery conditions may make a target of over 5 miles difficult to reach. Would an aqua fit course, stationary bicycle or a gym class give you the same successful benefits? There are over 75 million fitbits sold over the past 19 years was this simply a great marketing tool or a step toward good health? Adding in a little extra physical activity is good for most people both physiologically and psychologically, regardless of goals or benchmarks. At the same time, setting the same goal for everyone can be discouraging to the people who need activity the most.
Bottom line is any amount of movement is good movement! Take it one day at a time and step as many times as you can!
www.theatlantic May 2019 Amanda Mull