10,000 steps a day – does it add up?

Reaching 10,000 steps a day became a mainstream fitness goal with the rise of as wearable fitness trackers. But do we really need to hit this magic number?

The origins of the 10,000 step goal dates back to 1965, to a Japanese devise called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.”

Walking is a simple exercise with many proven health benefits, from maintaining or losing weight to improving joint healthOpens a new window. People who sit a lot during the day may find it more difficult to reach 10,000 steps than someone who is always on their feet. Adding physical activity to your normal day, though, can be good for you, regardless of the number on your fitness tracker.

While the “magic number” of 10,000 steps may just be a clever marketing toolOpens a new window, the important thing to remember is that any amount of movement is good.

“Some activity is better than nothing!” explains Wendy Pernerewski, health coach educator at WellSpark Health. “Our bodies were made to move, so every little step we take is just good for us, body and mind.

Benefits of walking
Going for a walk every day can improve your mental wellbeingOpens a new window. Those who practice regular exercise may have a 30% less risk of becoming depressedOpens a new window and may also notice reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep.

Older folks who enjoy a nice walk get some added benefits. They may see improvements in their cognitive function, memory, attention, and processing speed. Walking can even reduce the risk of developing dementiaOpens a new window. Pernerewski adds that walking after a meal can also help with digestion.

A new studyOpens a new window, led by Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, found that older women who walk 4,400 steps a day have a 41% less risk of premature mortality, compared to those who walk 2,500 steps or less a day.

Steps add up – by the day and by the week
The Physical Activity Guidelines for AmericansOpens a new window suggest 150 minutes per week of exercise, which can include brisk walking. The guidelines recommend spreading those minutes throughout the week. So, you could do 30-minute sessions five days a week or multiple 10-minute sessions each day.

You’d rather measure steps than time? Not to worry. “If getting 10,000 steps a day seems daunting, break it up into smaller bouts of movement each day,” says Pernerewski. She offered these tricks to help you rack up steps:

  • Start your day with a quick 10-15-minute walk to get the blood moving and kinks out of the muscles and joints.
  • Try to take a quick walk every hour or so.
  • Park far away and take stairs whenever possible for extra steps.
  • Have a bunch of conference calls? Put on your headset so you can walk and talk.
  • Drink plenty of water so you have to keep getting up to go the bathroom.
  • Put on some tunes and have a dance party.

Whether you walk 10,000 steps or 4,000, the key is to make sustainable exercise part of your daily life. “There are so many ways to get your steps in every day,” says Pernerewski. “Stay motivated by making it less like a chore and more fun.  Before long, you will be feeling all the amazing benefits of consistently moving your body.”

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