Walking 10K steps a day: Marketing myth or health hack?
The 10,000 steps-a-day guideline has long been touted as the path to better health, but is it truly necessary? Let's find out!
In recent years, the idea of 10,000 steps per day for maintaining good health has gained huge popularity. However, before following it blindly, it’s important to get basic questions answered, like where this magic number comes from, and if it’s practical to walk that many steps while keeping up with a busy lifestyle.
In this article, we will explore the origins of the 10,000-step recommendation and compare it to the activity levels of our hunter-gatherer ancestors followed by a discussion on the recommended lifestyle for better well-being today.
10K steps a day: The origin story
The concept of walking 10,000 steps per day can be traced back to Japan in the 1960s. When a Japanese researcher, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, concerned about the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of his fellow citizens developed a pedometer called "Manpo-kei," which translates to "10,000 steps meter."
According to his belief walking 10,000 steps daily would help people stay active and improve their overall health. The recommendation quickly gained popularity and since then become a globally recognised target for a healthy life.
However, it's essential to understand that the 10,000-step guideline is not a scientifically precise prescription for optimal health.
Going back in history
To put this concept into perspective, let's understand the physical activity levels of our prehistoric ancestors (who lived as hunter-gatherers). Research estimates vary, but some studies suggest that the daily distance travelled might have ranged from 6 to 16 kilometres or more.
However, it’s important to note that hunter-gatherers were not limited to just walking. They engaged in various physically demanding activities, like running, climbing, and lifting heavy objects. Those activities were likely to have contributed positively to their good health and fitness.
Modern medical recommendations
Even though the 10,000-step goal serves as a helpful motivation for some, it’s neither practical nor necessary for all. In fact, the modern understanding of physical activity doesn’t agree with the one-size-fits-all approach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. The emphasis here is on the importance of regular exercise rather than a specific step count.
Furthermore, individuals have varying fitness levels, health conditions, and mobility limitations that influence their ability to meet a 10,000-step goal.
Setting realistic health goals
Setting unrealistic targets will lead to frustration and discouragement. Therefore, it's best to focus on achievable and sustainable goals that align with your individual circumstances and preferences. Here are some tips for setting realistic physical activity goals:
If you are currently stuck in a sedentary lifestyle, begin with a manageable daily step count and gradually increase it over time. Start slow and scale up as you see progress.
Incorporate a variety of physical activities into your routine, such as swimming, cycling, or strength training, to work different muscle groups. This will also ensure things don’t get monotonous.
Listen to your body
Pay attention to how your body responds to exercises. If you experience pain or discomfort, consult a healthcare professional without delay.
Consistency is more important than a one-time achievement. Aim for regular, sustainable activity rather than seeking one-time wonders or setting over-ambitious goals just to end up nowhere.
Set personal goals
Establish goals based on your unique fitness level, lifestyle, and health objectives, never follow any fitness trend blindly. Always do your research and tailor it according to your needs, goals, and priorities.
There is no doubt that the concept of walking 10,000 steps per day sounds challenging and motivating. But it's important to recognise that there is no universally applicable benchmark for optimal health, not in scientific precision at least.
Instead, the idea of reaching this specific number is rooted in history and marketing. Therefore, focusing on setting realistic and personalised fitness goals based on individual circumstances, preferences, and overall well-being, is always a sustainable option.
One day wonder never works, especially in maintaining health - consistency is the key. Hence, regular physical activity, in whatever form suits you best, is your answer.