10,000 steps a day debunked!

Walking is a fantastic way to improve and maintain both our physical and mental well-being. And the great news is that it can be done anywhere. Strolling around the streets where we live or venturing further afield into beautiful landscapes.

The concept of walking 10,000 steps a day has been around for some time now. But did you know it originated from an advert for a pedometer in 1964 and wasn’t initially backed by any scientific research?

Nevertheless, it has inspired thousands to download step counter apps or invest in smartwatches to track daily movement.

A recent meta-study of 12 other studies finally brings clarity on the number of steps we need to take to reap long-term health benefits, such as reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death.
And it isn’t as many as you might think!

Walking 2,000 steps equates to about a mile of regular walking, so 10,000 steps is the equivalent of walking 5 miles per day!

Unless you have an active job, it can be challenging to cover this distance regularly. But don’t feel downhearted; the new study shows that health benefits begin with as few as 2,500 to 2,700 daily steps (approximately 1 mile a day, or 15-20 minutes of walking).

For the most robust defence against cardiovascular disease, around 7,000 daily steps are reported to be the magic number (7,126 to be exact), with the most significant reduction in the risk of mortality happening when you reach approximately 9,000 steps each day (8,763 steps).

We all know some days are easier than others, depending on what we have in our schedules. But the key messages I’d like everyone to take away from this blog are…

  • You CAN build some walking into your daily routine; and
  • You CAN increase the benefits to your health by setting yourself incremental goals to increase your step count over time.
Easy ways to build more steps into your day

With the meta-study results now available, it feels like the pressure to cover thousands of steps a day has been eased somewhat.

We now know we don’t have to aim for 10,000 steps every single day. But building 2,500 to 3,000 steps into our daily routine will reduce our risk of a range of long-term health conditions AND help improve our mental health.

Here are a few easy ways you can add some extra steps to your schedule:

  • If you work from home, add a daily walk to your online calendar and take a 15–20-minute walk at lunchtime. It’s a great way to clear the mind and reset, so you can tackle your afternoon commitments more clearly.
  • If you work in an office building, take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • If you catch the bus to work, get off the bus a stop or two earlier and walk the last bit to increase your step count.
  • If you have a treadmill, challenge yourself to walk on it daily for 10-15 minutes.
  • If you only need a little shopping, walk to a local convenience shop instead of driving to a supermarket.
  • If you have school-age children, leave the car at home and walk wherever possible. If this isn’t possible, try parking a little further away. If you already walk to school, try extending your route to include an extra loop on the way home from drop-off or before pick-up.
What about walking pace?

The new study also considered the pace at which we walk and found additional health benefits associated with intermediate and high walking speeds. As this isn’t possible for everyone, aim for a comfortable pace to suit your circumstances, but where possible, aim for a pace that elevates your heart rate slightly.

Does age matter?

There’s no denying we have an ageing population, and motivating everyone to walk thousands of steps a day may be discouraging to those with mobility constraints or other responsibilities, such as caring for elderly relatives.

But the good news is that ANY daily walking can help us achieve our goals of living a healthier lifestyle while reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease and other long-term conditions.

The great thing about walking is that it’s low impact and can be an enjoyable social activity. We don’t need to invest in fancy equipment (just a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes), and we don’t need training on how to do it! It can also be done in all weathers. What’s that saying? “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!”

There will be some days when 10,000 steps are possible, and you may find yourself on a long walk through the countryside. This doesn’t have to be the norm though. It’s about building regular walking into our daily routines and then slowly increasing our steps over time, so we can optimise the health benefits it brings