Do we really need to take ten thousand steps a day?

Do we really need to take ten thousand steps a day?

Is your mobile phone nagging you because you haven't reached your ten thousand steps a day goal? But why just ten thousand steps and not more or less? What is this standard, and do you have to come close to it to stay fit?

There is no doubt that physical activity is beneficial to health: it fights obesity, cholesterol, diabetes, and even depression. But at what dose can we feel its benefits?

You've probably heard that you need to take 10,000 steps every day, which is about four kilometers. This is an ambitious goal that most people are far from reaching, as they are satisfied with an average of 5,000 steps per day.

And that's not so bad after all because the myth of 10,000 steps is not based on any scientific studies. The number originated during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when the Yamasa Corporation launched a pedometer called Manpo-Kei, which means "10,000 step measurement". It is, therefore, a purely marketing concept.

Number of steps per day: what is the right target?

The good news is that the quota of steps for staying fit is lower than 10,000.

A study published in 2019 in the journal Jama Internal Medicine carried out in elderly women shows that the mortality rate is reduced by 40% from 4,400 steps per day compared to people limiting themselves to 2,700 steps. Mortality continues to decrease progressively when the number of steps is increased until a ceiling of 7,500 steps is reached, after which additional activity no longer seems to bring any benefit.

WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, i.e. about 20 minutes per day.

Number of steps: not a very reliable indicator

In reality, there's no need to set a target number. Firstly, because most pedometers and mobile phones measuring the number of steps are very unreliable: according to a study by the University of Toronto, some applications underestimate the number of steps by 25% to 30%, while others count 10% more.

It also depends on the pace at which you walk: it must be fast enough to work the heart and respiratory system. Walking speed would even indicate life expectancy regardless of weight, reports a 2019 study from the Mayo Clinic.

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