Less than 10,000 Steps

Luis Villazon, BBC Science Focus, says it is okay to do less. October 2020.

There’s no denying that walking is good for your health, but there’s nothing magic about the number 10,000. This figure is thought to have come from a Japanese pedometer called ‘manpo-kei’ (literally ‘10,000 steps meter’), marketed as a device for the health-conscious in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The 10,000 steps target has probably stuck around because it’s easy to measure and easy to remember. But a 2019 study led by researchers at the Harvard Medical School measured the step counts of almost 17,000 women over four years and found that the benefits tapered off well before 10,000 steps.

The least active women averaged about 2,700 steps per day, and increasing this to 4,400 steps was associated with a 40 per cent drop in mortality rates. Higher daily step counts showed greater benefits, but only up to 7,500 steps per day, at which point mortality rates levelled off.

This study only looked at older women (average age of 72), and there will have been many factors other than step count that affected their likelihood of dying within the four years. But the wider conclusion is that fixating on the number of steps isn’t necessarily helpful. A better – and perhaps more attainable – goal is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, including brisk walking.

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