If you own a pedometer, Fitbit, or activity tracking device the chances are you have heard about the recommendation to obtain 10,000 steps per day. No doubt, the guideline has prompted a greater awareness to increase our physical activity levels. But even if your activity is not 10,000 steps per day just about any increase in physical activity above baseline is beneficial. Moreover, hitting the quota does not mean we can rest assured that our health and fitness will be adequately protected.
The origin of 10,000 Steps per Day is not exactly scientific either. To the best of our knowledge the 10k steps per day recommendation came from a Japanese company attempting to sell consumers pedometers in the 1960’s. 10,000 steps per day had a nice ring to it and it stuck.
Since the 60’s a number of studies have demonstrated health benefits associated with 10,000 steps per day like, lower blood pressure and improved glucose tolerance but none of these benefits magically appear at nor disappear below this threshold. The onset or diminishing of health benefits associated with physical activity is more like a volume knob than a light switch.
Obtaining 10,000 steps is not an official recommendation of the Centers of Disease and Control, nor the American College of Sports Medicine. Physical activity guidelines for adults 18-65 years of age are 2.5 hours per week of moderate or 1.25 hours of vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise plus two non-consecutive sessions of full body strength training.
One of the limitations when counting steps is that step count does not reflect the intensity of physical activity – vigorous intensity exercise provides double the health benefits of moderate intensity and steps counts might be accumulated at less than moderate intensities.
Nevertheless, step counting can provide a measureable way to set goals and increase physical activity. For starters, measure your average number of steps over a 3 day span and try to increase the daily number by 1,000. Or set a different goal that works for you. The important point is that we are more active than before.