10,000 Steps Daily? Harvard Health Says No [Updated 2024]

Is 10,000 Step Daily Correct For You?

For years we’ve been sold the idea that we should all strive for 10,000 steps daily to ensure a long and healthy life.

I mean really sold, because millions of step measuring devices in the form of watches, phones and other devices are sold every year to people keen to improve on their health outcomes.

But where did this number come from?

It always seemed very strange to me that the perfect number happened to be such a perfectly round figure.

A lady looks at both her watch and her phone she's wearing active wear

In this article I will cover:

  • Where did 10,000 steps daily come from,
  • What the research says about it,
  • A list of some of the health benefits of walking,
  • How many steps daily you should aim for to improve your health outcomes and how you should approach it.

How on earth is 10,000 steps daily appropriate for everyone? From a lady in her 70s trying to keep active, down to an 18 year old on a health kick.

Obviously it’s just a guide, and I get that, but surely there must be a better way of working out how many steps YOU should be aiming for each day to live a long and healthy life.

Well, recent research from Harvard Medical School has shown that, on average, approximately 4,400 steps daily is enough to significantly lower the risk of death in women. Less than half what we’ve been told to strive for.

We podiatrists have been seeing overtraining injuries in people for as long as we’ve been practising. People suddenly decide that they need to lose weight because they’ve had a health scare or they want to keep up with their Grandkids etc., and try to do way too much.

 

A man crouches down by the side of the road holding his left shin with both hands

This often results in a soft tissue injury that’ll put them out of action for months. Unfortunately sometimes that’s enough to stop them from trying again, which is a real shame and will have adverse health consequences.

Walking Does Have Great Health Benefits

One thing we know for certain is that walking is good for you.

It’s considered one of the best things you can do to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.

The question then becomes, exactly how much walking should we be doing and how often.

Well, this depends on the individual. Whilst for an elite athlete, or just a fit young person, walking 10,000 or even 25,000 steps daily may not be a problem at all.

For an elderly person with osteo-arthritis and other mobility issues, walking is still very beneficial, but you may be looking at something like 2,500 steps daily.

 

 

Walking is great for conditions like arthritis, as moving these joints under body weight helps to “lubricate” the joint with synovial fluid, and helps improve quality of cartilage.

To learn more about arthritis in the foot click here.

Other benefits include:

  • increased bone density,
  • improved BMI
  • improved blood flow to everywhere including the legs and also the heart and brain and other major organs,
  • improved mental health,
  • improved blood sugar levels,
  • reduced chance of heart attack or stroke,
  • reduced rates of cancer,
  • delays the onset of dementia and alzheimers,
  • and many more.

Walking Can Help You Lose Weight, but Don't Forget About Diet.

If you are over-weight, walking can help you to reduce it.

A lot of our patients who are in need of a knee or hip replacement are told by their doctor to lose 5kgs or more before they’ll perform the surgery.

This is because doctors know very well that patients will get much better results from surgery if they are closer to an ideal weight.

This often becomes a vicious circle as the patient has trouble exercising because they have severe arthritis which is of course why they need surgery.

Never forget that your diet is almost always the biggest factor in achieving a healthy weight. 

Many of us make the mistake of beginning an exercise program without adjusting their diet (I’ve definitely been guilty)!

This can often lead to frustration as we are working hard on exercise but not seeing the results we were hoping for.

It is much more effective to reduce the number of kilojoules we consume, than to increase the number we burn.

 

Why 10,000? Follow the Money!

Dr Lee is a professor of medicine from Harvard Medical School and an epidemiologist (the study of health across populations).

Lee discovered that the idea of completing 10,000 steps daily started back in 1965 when a Japanese company made one of the first pedometers, the Manpo-kei (10,000 step meter).

10,000 steps daily was a marketing tool for selling more of these devices which as I mentioned above has been extremely successful.

Some marketing campaigns are so successful that they come to be treated as the truth, they enter the Zeitgeist and we all accept them.

 

But Many Experts Disagree

Dr Lee wanted to see whether or not the number had some basis in science i.e. is 10,000 steps daily a good average number to aim for?

 

She was studying women and the relationship between exercise and overall mortality and morbidity.

In a study of 16,741 women aged between 62 and 101 several key findings emerged including:

  • Sedentary women averaged 2,700 steps daily.
  • Women who averaged 4,400 daily steps had a 41% reduction in mortality.
  • Mortality rates progressively improved before leveling off at approximately 7,500 steps daily.
  • There were about nine fewer deaths per 1,000 person-years in the most active group compared with the least active group.

So, if mortality — death — is your major concern, this study suggests you can reap benefits from 7,500 steps a day. That’s 25% fewer steps daily than the more common goal of 10,000 steps.

Reference: From Steve Calechman “Exercise and Fitness” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.  July 11, 2019.

Daniel Lieberman is another Harvard expert who disputes the authenticity of 10,000 steps. Whilst he says that around that amount of exercise can be effective, it doesn’t really matter what type of exercise you do.

Daniel Lieberman is a professor in the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard.

The more we study physical activity, the more we realize that it doesn’t really matter what you do,” Lieberman says. “You don’t have to do incredible strength training … to get some benefits of physical activity. There’s all different kinds of physical activity, and it’s all good in different ways.”
Source: NPR “Just Move: Scientist Author Debunks Myths About Exercise And Sleep” Author: Terry Gross.

The team at Dynamic Podiatry L-R Sarah, Matt, and Michaela

The Dynamic Podiatry Team

If you have any type of lower limb injury call our friendly staff to make an appointment to see the lower limb experts, Dynamic Podiatry. Call 3351 8878

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