The King Walked in Any Weather

The Elusive Magic of 10,000 Steps Per Day

We wait for it every day. That magic moment when our fitness band goes nuts with good vibrations to tell us that we’ve crossed the magic threshold of 10,000 steps for the day. But if you dig into it, you can easily learn that the 10,000 step benchmark is more arbitrary than magic. And new research tells us that for some people, it might be the wrong goal. In JAMA Internal Medicine, I-Min Lee and colleagues explain their findings:

Among older women, as few as approximately 4400 steps/d was significantly related to lower mortality rates compared with approximately 2700 steps/d. With more steps per day, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7500 steps/d.

Observational Research in Older Women

As interesting as these findings are, they have their limitations. First, it’s important to realize that these researchers were studying a very particular population – older women. Average age was 72. None of the women in the study were younger than 62. The oldest was 101.

So should we be surprised that this cohort doesn’t need 10,000 steps daily? Probably not. But different cohorts would almost certainly have different results. In other words, one size fits all is never a reliable assumption.

Second, we need to take this research with a grain of salt because it’s observational. As the authors themselves note, reverse causation is an issue. It might be that people who are likely to live longer for other reasons tend to be more active. Maybe vitality is causing more steps. Not the other way around.

An Arbitrary, but Useful Benchmark

Benchmarks can be useful and they can be misleading. The 10,000 step benchmark was almost entirely arbitrary, going back to 1965. A Japanese pedometer popularized it then with its trade name – Manpo-kei. The name means “10,000 steps meter” in English.

However, suggesting that no one would benefit from 10,000 daily steps is misleading. Mic did it blatantly with this headline:

Getting 10,000 steps a day
doesn’t make you live longer than
people who get fewer, says a new study

Instead, we suggest this perspective from the 2018 expert report on physical activity guidelines:

The number of steps that would be equivalent to 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity varies from individual to individual and it may be less than the commonly suggested 10,000 steps. Regardless, step counts are simple to use, can be tailored to meet individual needs, and appear to be useful for monitoring progress toward personal goals.

The real bottom line is that staying active will help you live longer and healthier. Setting personal goals can help to keep you on track. Benchmarks and step counts can be useful, even though they’re not the final word.

Click here for the study and then here for further perspective. For a case study of step counting that doesn’t help, click here.

The King Walked in Any Weather, painting by Alexandre Benois / WikiArt

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May 31, 2019

One Response to “The Elusive Magic of 10,000 Steps Per Day”

  1. May 31, 2019 at 2:22 pm, Allen Browne said: