How much do steps per day really matter?


HAVEN’T hit your 10,000-step goal for the day? Then you better walk laps around the house before the clock strikes midnight. If you can manage to edge out whoever is at the top of your step-count leaderboard, that’s even better.
Does that inner monologue sound familiar? For all of the focus many fitness-minded people put on that 10,000-step milestone – which comes pre-programmed into virtually every fitness tracker on the market – the goal is actually pretty arbitrary.
According to one Sports Medicine review, it all goes back to 1960s Japan, when pedometers sold there were marketed with the name “manpo-kei,” meaning “10,000 steps meter.” For some reason, the number stuck, and now, nearly 60 years later, we are still chasing that 10,000-step goal.
“There’s nothing magical about it other than it’s a nice, round number,” says Dr. Dr. James Borchers, associate professor of clinical family medicine and director of sports medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t even have a step recommendation. Instead, its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise – along with two or more days of strength-based exercise – per week.
You could easily hit those goals without taking 10,000 steps per day: Biking, swimming and squats all require zero steps. And, honestly, if you have 30 minutes to dedicate to exercise per day, spending that half hour performing high-intensity (albeit no-step) strength training is likely more beneficial than spending it walking – or even running. In one Harvard School of Public Health study of 10,500 adults, those who strength trained for 20 minutes each day gained less visceral fat, which is linked to long-term health complications and premature death over 12 years compared to those who engaged in the same amount of cardiovascular exercise. In one Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise randomized control trial, women who engaged in an exercise program designed to meet the current exercise guidelines took about 7,000 steps per day.
On the flip side, you could take 10,000 steps and still not meet current exercise recommendations. After all, as far as your pedometer is concerned, a step is a step; it doesn’t matter if you ran it while busting out an 8-minute mile or took it walking from your couch to your bed.

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