Step It Up!
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
by Anna DiMarco, Senior Physiotherapist
10,000 Steps per Day
I am late to this party, that's for certain. It is only this past week that I have started to record my daily activity via an electronic bracelet. I do realize that most people jumped onto this trend years ago already. I had never felt a need to know how many steps I take each day or how many minutes I lay awake at night until just this week. I am not certain what peaked my curiosity at this time other than two clients had mentioned their recent commitment to taking ten thousand steps per day recently. With all the marketing around monitoring our movement, I am sure most of us are aware that 10,000 steps per day is the "generally recommended" level of activity by the manufacturers of this type of monitoring devices. But is there any science behind this "dosage" recommendation?
Manpo-Kei..... Myth or Mantra?
The original pedometer that achieved mass market success was the Manpo-Kei. It was developed in Japan following the 1964 Olympics and likely owed much of its success to the newfound interest in fitness following the successful games. The direct translation of Manpo-Kei is 10,000 step meter. There was no scientific origin for the recommendation, but as 10,000 is an auspicious number in Japanese culture, the developer decided to utilize the recommendation as a marketing strategy. Today's monitors have continued with the recommendation and now the science is working backwards to decipher whether this is an appropriate level of activity to be recommending as a baseline for healthy living. Although not all steps or recording devices are created equally, we can safely say that 10,000 steps is equivalent to somewhere between 4 and 5 miles in most cases (6.4-8 km).
Does the Target Hit the Mark?
As you can well imagine, for some of us 10,000 steps is hardly achievable each day, whereas for others, this goal is easily surpassed and potentially doubled or tripled. It is no secret that overall we are becoming less active globally as we surrender to the ease and necessity of technology. It has been suggested by some physiologists that the 10k recommendation falls short of putting us on the path toward improved overall health and wellness. On the other hand, those of us working with physically compromised individuals, older adults and those living with chronic illness realize that the target may be too lofty for a good percentage of the population. So 10, 000 steps may not be an ideal target for everyone, but it is a good place to start the conversation.
In a scientific analysis of physical activity parameters among a cross section of individuals, researchers Tudor-Locke and Bassett were able to produce a step count guideline for specific demographics (2004). The research in this arena continues as scientists aim to correlate specific health benefits with increased step counts. The guidelines, as per the original 2004 research findings:
Children 8-10 years old.............................12,000-16,000steps/day
Youth 11-19 years old............................11,000-12,000steps/day
Adult (20-50 years old) .........................7000-13,000 steps/day
Older Adult (50-70 years old) ..................... 6000-8500 steps/day
Adults with disabilities and chronic disease ......3500-5500 steps/day
First step....purchase a monitoring device, whether a simple pedometer, a fancy techno bracelet or use your smart phone activity app. Simply tracking your activity will inspire you to move more! But before you start moving more, calculate your baseline.
Step two...... Track your activity for one week (without doing more than you normally would) and then calculate your daily steps average. This will be your baseline. You may be quite surprised. I found it surprising to learn that on a day when I work (standing, walking, moving for 8-9 hours), my average step count (pre-exercise steps) falls in the range of 3500-4100 steps. On the weekend, my average step (pre-exercise) count is generally higher, coming in at a range of 4100-6000. Grocery shopping took me to 2600 steps! And I wasn't even at a Costco!
Step three....step it up! Depending on what your specific goals are, you will want to increase your daily step count accordingly. If improving your overall health and well-being is your goal, add 2000-3000 moderately paced steps to your baseline. This would equate to approximately 20-30 minutes of walking. Studies do support the notion of improved cardiovascular health (decreased stroke and heart attack incident), improved blood glucose levels, and improved mood with a moderate intensity 20-30 minute daily walk. 4000 steps per day at a moderate pace has been demonstrated to improve blood cholesterol levels, similar to the affect achieved by a statin medication. Dosage related gains in health and wellness beyond these parameters are currently being investigated.
If your goal is weight loss, the studies are indicating that you may have to step it up a lot more and combine the increased activity with improved eating habits. Adding 10,000 steps to your daily baseline (vs. increasing to 10k steps) would burn up an additional 2000-3500 calories per week. One pound is equal to 3500 calories, so adding an additional 10, 000 steps per day could theoretically result in approximately 1 pound weight loss per week as long as you did not increase your caloric intake. Step it up slowly to avoid overuse injuries. General guidelines are to increase your physical activity at a rate of about 10% per week until you have achieved your target number of steps. If the weight is not falling off, you may have to step it up beyond an additional 10,000 steps per day and/or meet with a dietician to review your meal planning. P.S. This would not be unusual. The research is revealing that an increase of 16,000-18,000 steps above your individual baseline is required for weight loss. Sadly, exercise alone has never proven to be an effective weight loss strategy. Consider that we often under-estimate the number of calories consumed and over-estimate the number of calories burned up by activity and it is easy to imagine that without changing our intake, we will not affect our weight. Follow this link if you would like to be shocked into reality......
If your goal is improved fitness, you will want to consider that the number of steps per day is only part of the equation. You may want to consider the quality and speed of your steps (race walk, jog, incline, intervals). As well, you may want to incorporate strength training, balance, coordination and flexibility exercises to create an all encompassing improved fitness level for yourself.... and that would be another blog article :).
Just for Fun....How Do you Compare?
Scientists and fitness trackers have been evaluating data from different countries and different regions within each country to ascertain how active we are on a daily basis and how we are faring compared to our ancestors. It should be noted that researchers consider achieving less than 5000 steps per day as falling into the "sedentary" category.
Canadians................. 5000 steps/day
Americans................. 5100 steps/day
New Yorkers.............. 7958 steps/day
Brits ........................... 4000 steps/day
Australians................. 7400 steps/day
Japanese ....................7168 steps/day
Swiss.......................... 9650 steps/day
Amish ..........................17,000 steps/day
Hunter/Gatherer.......... 7800-21,000 steps/day
So, at the end of the day, wherever you may fall in the data, increasing your baseline is a reasonable starting point from which to address the whole issue of moving more, sitting less, and making a consistent effort to improve your overall wellness.
Step it up and live well,