Do You Really Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day?

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly bombarded with medical advice. You may have heard that you should be taking 10,000 steps a day in order to maintain your health. This is the equivalent of five miles or 100 minutes of brisk walking per day at a rate of 100 steps per minute. Does this recommendation have any scientific basis and how true is it? Read on to find out.

Origins of the Recommendation

The suggestion of taking 10,000 steps a day originated in Japan, in the 1960s, just before the Tokyo Olympics of ’64. During that time, pedometers became a huge trend as the country was in the Olympic spirit. One company named their pedometer “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 step meter.” That number seemed to have stuck with people and has since then been a daily target for many. Some popular fitness devices and pedometers of today, such as those by Fitbit, even come with a default of 10,000 steps.

So, the origins of this recommendation don’t seem to be scientifically based at all. However, that didn’t stop the figure from being published countless times by various sources. It also seems to stick with people because it is a round number.

Andrew Haddon / Shutterstock.com
Andrew Haddon / Shutterstock.com

Supporting Studies

Just because the origins of the 10,000 step target are not scientific, it doesn’t mean that it should be completely disregarded. There are many studies supporting the recommendation. One study, for example, showed that middle-aged males who took 10,000 steps a day saw a significant decrease in blood pressure. Another study showed that overweight women who gradually increased the number of steps they took (to eventually take 10,000) improved their glucose levels. Yet another study showed that overweight adults who took 10,000 steps a day showed significant improvements in their overall weight. In general, walking has many other benefits besides physical health, too. For example, a 2001 study showed that sedentary ethnic-minority women who walked more had improved vigor, indicating an increase in positive mental health and well-being. So, walking has been shown clinically to improve both physical and mental health.

Anetlanda / Shutterstock.com
Anetlanda / Shutterstock.com

Opposing Studies

While no studies show a disadvantage of taking 10,000 steps a day, there are few studies which show little to no changes in health from walking. For example, one 2006 study showed that sedentary adults who walked twice a week for 45 minutes decreased their systolic blood pressure, but showed no change in fitness, body mass, waist/hip circumference, or diastolic blood pressure. This result, however, may be due to the fact that the participants selected their own walking speed and intensity. It has been suggested that in order to see the positive health benefits of taking 10,000 steps daily, about 2,000 to 4,000 of them must be done at a brisk pace.

michaeljung / Shutterstock.com
michaeljung / Shutterstock.com
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