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You’ve probably heard or read before that walking 10000 steps a day is the secret to living a long and fulfilling life. Not quite. It turns out the 10000-steps a day workout is simply a marketing gimmick and not science-based. For a long time, many people, including coaches, believed that 10000 steps were the magic number to attaining fitness and health goals. But it’s all a myth, which has been debunked by several scientific studies.

The Origin of the 10000 Steps Per Day Myth

Several sources reveal that the advice to walk 10000 steps a day originated from Japan. According to Dr. I-Min Lee, the professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health, what’s become universally accepted on fitness trackers was more of a coincidence than a fact.

Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company is the company behind the marketing gimmick. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the company mass-produced a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to the “10,000 steps meter”. When written in Japanese characters (万), it resembled a walking man, which became embedded in our consciousness for decades.

To date, millions of people worldwide think that if they walk 10000 steps a day, they will live longer and healthier lives.

How Many Steps Should I Do Per Day?

However, today’s science suggests otherwise. Several studies have been carried out to show the link between exercise measured through pedometer and improved health over time. One study published in PLOS One, which monitored 3,000 Australians, found that a sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1000 to 10000 per day had a 45 percent lower mortality risk.

The study also found that a sedentary person who increased his or her steps to 3,000 per day, five days a week, had a 12 percent lower mortality risk.

A more recent study from the Harvard Medical School offers a more accurate and realistic recommendation. According to findings, on average, women in their 70s who walked 4,400 steps a day significantly reduced the risk of premature death – by up to 40 percent.

The study recommended that the more steps one takes, the lower the risk of early death, but you didn’t need to do 10000 steps. According to the research, women who managed 5,000 steps a day experienced positive health benefits. 

However, the benefits plateaued at about 7,000 steps a day. That’s to say, women only need to complete fewer than half of the mythic 10,000 daily steps to live longer and healthier.

Another 2020 study on almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities also debunked the 10,000-steps a day myth, saying it wasn’t a necessary requirement for longevity. According to the results, men and women who walked 8,000 steps daily were half as likely to die early from heart disease or any other cause as those who managed 4,000 daily steps.

The study showed that the benefits of walking additional steps beyond the 10000-steps mark were slight. In other words, walking more than 8,000 steps did not offer much additional protection from premature death.

The Health Benefits of Daily Walks

Physical activities are essential in mitigating the risks of sitting down for long hours. According to research, people who sat for more than eight hours had a 59 percent risk of death than those sitting less than four hours a day. The study also found that if people engaged in moderate-intensity exercise for 60-75 minutes a day, it would eliminate the risk of death.

The World Health Organization recommends adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week (or 75 minutes of vigorous workouts). Research shows that even low-intensity exercise can improve your health – although moderate-intensity workouts offer greater health benefits. This means that your daily steps contribute to the 150 minutes of daily target activity.

Generally, increasing physical activity, like your step count, can help improve your health. In turn, this reduces your risk of death by reducing your risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as certain cancers and dementia. Exercise also helps to improve and maintain our immune system. 

The problem is, our lifestyles might not allow us to do the 10000 or even the 5,000-steps walk every day. If you’re among the people who can’t find time to do a 4,000-step stroll, try doing seven minutes of brisk walking every day.

A massive study of over 90,000 people by The Lancet Global found that a seven-minute brisk walk instead of a slower 12-minute walk can reduce mortality risk by up to a third among adults who rarely work out.

If you haven’t been exercising a lot, try taking daily walks. Increase your steps gradually and aim for at least 5,000 steps daily. If you work at a desk all day, don’t forget to take regular breaks to move around.

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