Ever wonder where the 10,000 steps a day idea came from? I was reading a bit about it and found this article.
I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, began looking into the step rule because she was curious about where it came from. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’ ”
Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research.
In her research, Lee put it to the test by observing the step totals and mortality rates of more than 16,000 elderly American women. The study’s results paint a more nuanced picture of the value of physical activity.
“The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,” Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps—less than a mile of walking—was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.
That nuance can mean a lot to people who want to be less sedentary but aren’t sure how to start or whether they can do enough to make a difference, says Lindsay Wilson, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “I don’t think setting the bar at 10,000 steps is a very successful way to approach exercise,” she says. “Some people are not walkers. They don’t have safe neighborhoods, or they feel unsteady on sidewalks. You need to be more creative. Is this a person who needs to go to a gym class or the pool, or sit on a stationary bike?”
If many of the persistent myths of American health, like eating breakfast and getting a certain number of steps, are based on marketing rather than science, why do they stick so well? “A big challenge is that the public and the media want cut-and-dried, black-and-white messages and findings, and science just doesn’t operate that way,” says Virginia Chang, a physician and sociologist at the NYU College of Global Public Health. “The uncertainty in the research doesn’t get translated well into the messaging. People just want to know what they should do.”
But for people hoping to improve their overall health, there’s often significant evidence that incremental improvements in things such as diet, hydration, and exercise can have real benefits, even if numerical goals are missed.
Lee says that thanks to advances in technology that make wearable fitness trackers more affordable and reporting on activity more reliable, her research is just starting to explore a fuller understanding of how physical activity and overall health are tied. Because her study was observational, it’s impossible to assert causality: The women could have been healthier because they stepped more, or they could have stepped more because they were already healthier. Either way, Lee says, it’s clear that regular, moderate physical activity is a key element of a healthy life, no matter what that looks like on an individual level.https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/05/10000-steps-rule/590785/
Science is inherently uncertain, that’s why they have error bars and confidence intervals, and there are usually no clear-cut answers to how much you should exercise. But either way, we know that physical activity is good for you, we just don’t have a specific number for it. Besides, that number is probably very personal and varies among individuals.
Depending on who you are and what you do, it could either be very easy to get 10,000 steps a day, or almost impossible. It’s probably really easy if you work as a waiter, nurse, or delivery person, but good luck if you’re a bus/taxi driver, programmer, or front-desk receptionist. For them, it might be a better idea to do short 7 minute workouts rather than collecting 10,000 steps a day.