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Is 10,000 steps the magic number?

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Fast forward to current times, several studies have been conducted regarding the optimum number of steps for better health. If you are curious about what researchers have found, well, the answer may be not as straightforward as it seems.  The questions around this topic that often come up are:

  • If I don’t exercise every day, will 10,000 steps per day make up for it?
  • Do we need to walk 10,000 steps per day to lose weight?
  • Is walking faster better than walking at a normal pace?
  • Is it better to do more than 10,000 steps per day?

And the answer is… it depends.

To expand on that answer, it depends largely on your goals. Here are some research findings that may help you determine the best walking workout for you.

 

All cause-mortality – the more steps, the better

If you are aiming to reduce your all-cause mortality (i.e. any disease) risks, then the higher the step count, the better[2],[3]. Walking at a brisk pace, however, does not necessarily improve your odds as there was no significant association between step intensity and mortality[4].

 

Cardiorespiratory fitness – intensity matters

If improving your aerobic fitness is your goal, then pick up the pace. Australian Guidelines for Physical Activity recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise per week[5], and for good reason. Intensity plays a crucial role in deriving cardiorespiratory benefits[6],[7] as well as reducing your risks for developing other diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity.

If you are looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness, reduce your risk of disease, obesity, hypertension try to maximise your step count. Assessing and optimising your metabolic health will also help achieve the same health benefits.

 

Weight loss – combine longer walks and diet

Brisk walking can help with weight loss, especially if it is more than 30 minutes at a time[8]. This could be associated with the number of calories burned when you power walk for a longer duration (which could also loosely translate to higher number of steps per day[9]). However, a recent study showed that while you still derive positive effects on your overall health, walking alone does not necessarily contribute to weight (fat) loss[10].  In this case, eating a healthy diet[11] contributes further to overall weight and fat loss and assist in maintaining a healthy weight[12].

 

To conclude, there is no optimum number of steps that would magically dissolve our risks for diseases. Cast a wide net to reap as many benefits as possible – reduce your all-cause mortality risk, maintain a healthy weight and improve your cardiorespiratory fitness by walking longer and quicker, and most important of all, enjoy your walk.

Assessing and optimising your metabolic health will also help achieve the same health benefits. Read more to understand more on the importance of metabolic health.

 

[1] https://www.standard.co.uk/futurelondon/health/fitness-trackers-what-is-the-origin-of-10-000-steps-aday-and-what-are-wearables-a4173306.html

[2] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5434-5

[3] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2734709

[4] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2763292

[5] https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians/for-adults-18-to-64-years

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126169/

[7] https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/is-walking-cardio

[8] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/can-you-lose-weight-by-walking-an-hour-a-day

[9] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6747371_The_inverse_relationship_between_number_of_steps_per_day_and_obesity_in_a_population-based_sample_-_The_AusDiab_study

[10] https://www.studyfinds.org/10000-steps-a-day-may-not-spark-weight-loss-after-all-study-says/

[11] https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/147/10/1875/4727967

[12] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/maintaining-weight-loss




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