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DR. BRIDGET GIBSON: Is 10,000 steps a day necessary? (column)

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Dr. Bridget Gibson

Walking is a great cardiovascular activity. 

When done consistently and for an adequate amount of time, walking offers multiple health benefits, including boosting energy levels and weight loss. It also decreases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and joint pain.

If you are into fitness, you may have heard of the trend that walking for 10,000 steps a day should be the goal to stay fit and healthy. In fact, most fitness trackers and wearable devices are programmed with a daily goal of 10,000 steps. Whether you find this too much or you need more insights about this concept, our aim is to help you understand if it’s really necessary.

What does research say?

The origin of the 10,000 steps goal is unclear, but some research says it may have started when a Japanese company began marketing a pedometer called Manpo-kei in 1965. It translates to "10,000 steps meter" in Japanese.

To dig deeper on this concept, a Harvard professor and her colleagues studied 16,741 women (with an average age of 72) between 2011 and 2015 to find out “how many steps a day were associated with longer life” and “if intensity matters.” Each woman wore a device for seven days to track her steps.

The study concluded that among older women, taking 4,400 steps daily was associated with a lower risk of death as compared to taking about 2,700 steps per day, which is the usual count for sedentary women. The risk of death continuously decreased with more steps taken, but stabilized at around 7,500 steps per day, which was less than the 10,000-step goal.

Are 10,000 steps a day necessary?

This goal may suit a certain segment of the population, but it may be difficult to achieve for others. 

According to the Pacific Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults by the World Health Organization, this goal generally focuses on the number of steps taken rather than the intensity. Therefore, it is essential to point out that the 10,000-step recommendation is just one way of achieving your fitness goals. Any type of movement counts, and if you want to commit to 10,000 steps daily, you may do so, but it’s not necessary.

How many steps are enough? Where should I start?

If you are sedentary, I advise increasing your amount of steps by 1,000 every 2 weeks.

You may also measure your steps depending on your goals. If you need:

        To strengthen your heart, walk for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week to lower your risk of heart disease by about 19%.

        To ease joint pain, walk for about 5 to 6 miles a week to help reduce pain and help prevent arthritis.

        To boost immune function, walking at a moderate pace for 30 to 45 minutes a day may help.

        To improve your mood, opt for about 30 minutes of brisk walking or other moderate intensity exercise three times a week.

        To burn calories, you may use a chart to compute the amount of calories you can burn based on your weight and the distance and intensity of the walk.

Final thoughts

As mentioned, any type of movement counts. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is the current recommendation.  So if dancing, swimming, cycling or golfing is your thing, then go for it.  

I wouldn’t focus on the exact number of steps, as long as you are taking the extra mile to improve your health with regular physical activity. The goal is to stay healthy, and you can do that with exercise, a healthy diet, enough sleep and a positive lifestyle.  So, next time, take the stairs, park farther away and start making healthier choices.

If you have a pre-existing condition or questions about your health, it is recommended you speak with your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is a family medicine physician for Brookwood Baptist Health.