How many steps a day should we be striving for? If your automatic response to that question is 10,000, think again.
A new study, led by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, found the magic number is closer to 7500 steps.
The ‘ideal’ daily step count is less than most of us think.Credit:Getty
While we have physical activity guidelines based on the duration (150-300 minutes per week) and the intensity (moderate to vigorous), iv percocet 30 we don’t have step-based guidelines.
Given more than 90 per cent of Australians have a smartphone, which tracks our steps automatically, and about 22 per cent have a fitness tracker, it may be an easier target to aim for.
“Tracking steps is something people relate to more and can conceptualise better than counting minutes,” says lead author Associate Professor Melody Ding.
The idea that 10,000 is the optimal step-count comes less from any solid evidence than from a 1960s marketing campaign for a new pedometer, named Manpo-Kei (Manpo means 10,000 steps in Japanese).
So, Ding and her colleagues set out to create a target based on the evidence. For their meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, they looked at 30,172 individuals whose steps and all-cause mortality outcomes were measured over the course of about nine years across 10 studies.
They confirmed what they suspected to be true: we don’t need to take 10,000 steps a day.
After adjusting for confounding factors like age, sex, health, and socioeconomic status, they found that “some steps are better than taking no steps” but that the “ideal” was 7500 steps a day.
“That was the point where you have the lowest risk,” explains Ding, who points out that we reap the benefits regardless of whether the steps are accumulated throughout the day – working in the garden, walking to and from the bus stop, taking the stairs at work – or in one session, where separate research suggests there are more health advantages when we push our pace a little.
When we walk 7500 steps a day – which takes about an hour or less and corresponds to about 5-6 kilometres – our chance of dying from any cause in the next two years is about 40 per cent less.
“The risk continues to go down to about 11,000 steps… where you halve the risk of dying in the next year or two.”
Why, if the risk at 11000 steps is lower, is 7500 considered “ideal”? Because the relationship is not linear, Ding explains.
“Between 0 and 7500 steps the risk reduction was sharp (8.5 per cent average risk reduction for every 1000 steps/day). After 7500, the incremental improvement starts to be marginal (2 per cent average risk reduction every 1000 steps/day). So, 7500 seems to be the ‘turning point’ where the shape of the relationship changes.”
She adds that not enough people in the studies they looked at were taking more than 11,000 steps so they were unable to say whether the benefits continued beyond that point.
Walking is not only free and can be done without workout gear, its many health benefits include reducing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression.
“It has anti-inflammation benefits, reduces cancer risk, improves physical functions, and prevents falls,” Ding says. “Physical activity also promotes better mental health, prevents cognitive declines. These benefits still apply to step counts, however, few studies have teased this out.”
Tony Blazevich is the director of the Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research at Edith Cowan University. He says that the paper is a good reminder that moving from a low physical activity level, to a moderate level provides “a massive boost” to our health and longevity: “So if you don’t move much, or are unfit, you can be sure to get a massive benefit from doing just a bit more than you currently do.”
He adds: “We should be mindful that the researchers looked only at mortality, yet our health and our capacity to live a happy, independent, and active life until mortality is also really important to us.”
For this, walking is just one part of a “physical activity diet” that includes slow and relaxing exercises, those that get our heart rate pumping and those we enjoy doing just for fun.
What the new research does is bust the myth that we need to walk 10,000 a day to get the most benefits.
“Everyone is so hooked on the idea,” Ding says. “Of course, it would be great if people took 10,000 steps, but it is not necessarily something where we have to think that unless we get 10,000 we don’t get benefits.
“For some people that might be out of reach and if they think actually if I get off the couch and do something, it’s still benefitting me. Ten thousand shouldn’t be the obstacle that holds you back.”
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