Why do we try for 10,000 steps every day?

We are all encouraged to walk 10,000 steps every day. Its almost like a mantra, a rule of life. I have been known to be wandering around the streets late at night ‘to get my steps in’.

But what is the science behind the 10k? A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine looks at two specifics –
• How many steps a day are associated with lower mortality rate?
• Does stepping intensity level make a difference to mortality?

The author of the paper, Dr Lee, looked at the origin of the 10,000 step ‘rule’. It’s very simple – in 1965 a Japanese company made a device called ‘Manpo-kei’ which translates as 10,000 steps. It was really a marketing tool but it is now so embedded that 10,000 is often the default setting for fitness trackers.

She then wondered if there was any scientific basis for this particular number of steps. A study looked at a large cohort of women aged between 62 and 101 (average age 72) and found that mortality rates were lower in those who did 7,500 steps per day. This study might have a flaw because the less mobile women are probably the older ones who are more likely to die anyway. This study also didn’t look at quality of life or the prevention of cognitive decline or physical illness.

However, if we look at government recommendations for daily exercise (150 minutes of moderate activity a week) then most people can achieve this by doing 10,000 steps a day (preferably with some of them at a brisk pace)
So, whilst the initial thought behind the daily steps we should aim to achieve might not be wholly scientific, there is still a huge benefit to getting outside and getting walking. If 10,000 feels unachievable right now – try building up slowly. Check what you are currently doing (even if you don’t have an activity tracker you can download a free app on your phone) and gradually build up. Burn those calories (about 80 per mile) and keep those joints moving.

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