Marketing mistakes often happen in a globalized world. Expressions get lost in translation and cultural differences can lead to the intent behind slogans to fall flat. You may be surprised to learn that the often shared recommendation that adults reach 10,000 steps daily resulted from a translation made in the 1960’s, not from any scientific studies.
Recently, it was uncovered that a marketing mishap may have launched the advice that many people follow today for how many steps to work towards daily. According to Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health, the 10,000-steps target became popular in Japan in the 1960s. A clock maker, hoping to capitalize on interest in fitness after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, mass-produced a pedometer with a name that, when written in Japanese characters, resembled a walking man. It also translated as “10,000-steps meter.” As the benefits of exercise and physical activity became better understood and more widely pursed by the public, 10,000 steps became a well-known fitness goal, with people across the world striving to walk almost five miles daily. You might even say this was one of the earliest examples of inaccurate information going viral!
Dr. Lee and other researchers released a study in 2019, which found that women in their 70s who managed as few as 4,400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40 percent, compared to women completing 2,700 or fewer steps a day. The risks for early death continued to drop among the women walking more than 5,000 steps a day, but benefits plateaued at about 7,500 daily steps. The study took one step in debunking the necessity of taking 10,000 steps, as it showed people could walk less than half that amount and benefit greatly.
A study released early September 2021 backed up those findings, with middle-age people who walked at least 7,000 steps a day on average being 50-70 % less likely to die of any cause over the next decade, compared with those who took fewer steps. The lower risk of early death was demonstrated across genders and races. The study involved 2,110 adults ages 38 to 50 who wore a device called an accelerometer for about a week to track their steps. During the follow-up period, which averaged almost 11 years, 72 of the participants died, most commonly from cancer or heart disease. In analyzing the data, the researchers controlled for body mass index, smoking and other factors that could have affected the findings.
Similar to the results of the 2019 study, the new study also shows that the health benefits of increased steps rose as more steps were taken, with the highest statistically significant reduction in mortality appearing between 7,000-10,000 steps. After that point, researchers stated that the benefits tapered off.
Providers generally recommend roughly 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity like brisk walking, gardening, or dancing, each week. Or, aim for 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly, which includes running, cycling, swimming laps, and jumping rope, for example. But, the total amount of time can also be a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity. Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week to increase strength and bone health. Don’t forget that activity doesn’t have to occur in one chunk of time; split up your exercise moments throughout the day to make it more manageable. Aim to sit less– it can make a serious difference in your overall health. Some benefits of staying active, include:
- Better sleep, with decreased risk of obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer, and some complications of pregnancy
- Less weight gain, obesity and related chronic health conditions
- Better bone health and balance, with less risk of injury from falls
- Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better quality of life and sense of overall well-being
The new study again highlights the importance of staying active, as it clearly benefits our bodies in maintaining overall wellness. These days, with everybody’s schedules brimming with commitments, knowing that we can still benefit with fewer steps makes keeping active more attainable. Break up exercise sessions throughout the day and get creative by filtering in moments of fitness during other activities. Walk in place while you blow dry your hair, stand up while you watch your favorite TV show and try some of our weekly exercises, take the stairs rather than the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot to get in a few extra steps. It adds up, and before you know it, you’ll be reaching not only the recommended amount of steps, but achieving improved health overall.