I was at the gym recently and noticed a woman walking on the treadmill. She was probably in her mid 40s and pretty overweight. She wasn’t walking fast, but after a few minutes she was so tired that she literally had to get off the treadmill and take a breather. A while later, I watched her as she started to climb the steps up to the weight area of the gym. She had to stop, putting her head down in exhaustion. This got me to thinking about how many steps people should be taking a day to stay healthy. Many of us have heard about 10,000 steps per day, but is this right for everybody? Let’s see what we can find out and a long the way try to help give you an idea of what might be right for you.
Where Did 10,000 Steps Come From?
The idea that we should aim for 10,000 steps per day permeates fitness so much so that most of us take it as fact. But, does it have any scientific truth? In other words, have any studies looked to see if 10,000 steps are optimal for being healthy?
From what I’ve been able to gather, the 10,000 steps a day rule was invented in the mid 1960s by a Japanese company that made pedometer called The “10,000 Steps Meter.” Taking 10,000 steps per day, the research at the time said, was enough to maintain healthy body weight.
Keep in mind that people ate fewer calories in the 1960s than they do today, so taking 10,000 steps today might not maintain weight.
Regardless, while I can’t find this research, I will concede that if you are taking 10,000 steps per day, it's doing wonders for helping keep you healthy, even if it doesn’t maintain body weight.
How Many Steps Should I Take?
In 2010 there was the The America On the Move study that looked at steps per day taken by over 1300 people. The pedometer used in this was the Accusplit AE120. These researchers noted that Americans took about 5117 steps per day on average.
They also found more steps per day were taken by people who were: younger, male, single and had higher education levels. In addition, they noted that people who had lower body mass indexes (BMI) tended to take more steps per day too.
Who Walks The Least?
Americans -no surprise there – tend to take the fewest steps of any developed country, averaging about 5000 steps per day (this statistic probably comes from the America On the Move study mentioned above). A segment that is way over this average is the Amish who average about 18,000 steps per day.
Benefits of Walking On Life Span
People who walk more live longer. This is a powerful message that I don't think most people know about.
As evidence of this, two interesting studies shed light on the benefits of exercise on how long we might live. In a study that looked at over 330,000 Europeans, researchers noted that briskly walking just 20 minutes a day could reduce the risk of dying – from all causes – by as much as 20-30%.
Think about that for a moment; your risk of dying -from everything you can think of – is 20-30% less if you just walked 20 minutes a day.
In another study -which I think people should be shouting from the rooftops – researchers noted that just 15 minutes of walking a day could help people live an extra 3 years! Think about it – 3 years of extra life on earth by just walking 15 minutes a day.
Let’s put this in perspective: As I wrote this, a TV commercial for a lung cancer drug came on that promised to give people as much as extra 3 months. In the TV commercial, they were touting this drug like it was a miracle!
How much would you pay for a pill that could give you 3 more years of life?
You would pay anything!
The beauty is that you don’t have to pay a cent. Walking is free.
How Many Steps Should I Take?
The answer really depends on who you are. For example, what if you are in a wheelchair and can’t walk? What do you do then? That said, if you have arthritis, are severally overweight or are very old, then 10,000 steps per day may be too much to aim for right now especially if you are just starting out.
And for kids, taking 10,000 steps a day may be not enough.
While counting steps is very popular because of the Fit Bit and other pedometers, why not begin by not counting steps but rather by going for how long you walk. For example, start out by walking for just a few minutes or until you feel just a bit winded.
If you’ve never done this before, start out walking once or twice for the first week and after that, try to walk the same length of time three days a week.
Then, a few weeks later, see if you can do 4 days a week. When you can consistently walk the same length of time time 4 days a week, then slowly increase the time you are walking. For example, the first week try to walk 5 minutes extra on the first day of the week.
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Eventually, see if you can walk that same duration of time for the other the days you're walking per week. Continue to slowly increase the time until you get to about 30 minutes a day for all the days a week you are walking.
At that point, your fitness – and health – have improved a lot so then feel free to get a Fit Bit or some other pedometer and start counting steps.
As a rule, if you are taking 3,000 steps a day, that’s roughly equal to about 30 minutes of walking. Try to do at least that if you are counting steps. If you can eventually do more, even better. As always let your health conditions be your guide and remember that if you miss a day, that’s OK. It’s what you do on a regular basis that’s most important.
If you do what I suggest, you are actually employing a well known exercise principle called the FITT Principle. FITT stands for:
- Frequency of exercise
- Intensity of exercise
- Time of exercise
- Type of exercise
These 4 things represent the different ways we can stress the body with exercise. Of these, increasing the time that you exercise is often seen as the safest way to go. This is the same thing a personal trainer would do for you too, so, as you slowly increase the time you are walking, you are actually becoming your own personal trainer.
What Pedometer Is Best?
While the Fit Bit is probably the most popular these days, remember that the America On the Move study (mentioned above) used the Accusplit AE120, which is less expensive. These days even my cell phone can track steps.
While pedometers, cell phones etc., can give you feedback and even spur us on to walk more, at the end of the day, walking is more important than what pedometer you use.
So, hopefully this little review has not only given you a better idea of where the 10,000 steps per day rule came from, it also empowered you to a better understanding of how just a little bit of walking can give you big benefits as you stroll down the road of life.
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