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Is 10,000 steps a day really good for you?

I recently got a new smartphone. No, it’s not that its anything to write about but on the main screen I notice it had a “step counter” – it keeps a running daily total of the number of footsteps that I take. I am not sure how it does that (or if it is that accurate) but having had the phone for a couple of months now I am interested to look at the numbers.

It has been advertised by various authorities that an average person should be taking 10 000 steps everyday to remain healthy. This came about way back in the 1960’s during the Tokyo Olympics. Using a pedometer Dr Yoshiro Hatano suggested the average Japanese adult took 3000 steps a day. If they increased that to 10 000 steps a day, they could expect burn off 20% of their daily calorie intake. The distance 10 000 steps equates to roughly 5 miles.

The figure has been used quite widely and has undergone a resurgence since wrist-worn electronic pedometers have become more common place. Looking at my own smartphone, it is telling me I am averaging 2.5 million steps a month! That’s a lot of steps when you look at it that way – it just shows how good my feet are at their job.

One final thought though, if we are trying to stay fit and healthy is 10 000 steps (5 miles) a day the best way? Well, a recent piece of work highlighted on the BBC website brings this into question. They compared two groups of people. One group was told to walk 10 000 steps a day the other group was instructed to walk for 10 minutes, three times a day at a brisk pace enough to raise their heart and breathing rate . This equated to roughly only 3000 steps.

The results showed that firstly walking 5 miles a day (10 000 steps) was often not achieved by those in the group where as the 10 minute x 3 times a day group easily achieved their daily goal. In addition, the 10 minute group showed greater health benefits – probably because their brisk walking raised their heart rate, which they may not have achieved in 10000 steps as they walk at a slower pace. So the bottom line is walk to get the heart rate up, that is better than a slow stroll over a longer distance.

As for my step counter, I will still look at it but think about making 3000 steps a day at a higher pace over 30 minutes to get the full benefit.

Reference Links:

BBC News Michael Mosley: 'Forget walking 10,000 steps a day'

10,000 Steps Daily. It's All About The Heart. History of 10 000 steps.

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