Shortly before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics a Japanese company launched a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translated into “10,000 steps metre”. It was based on the research of Dr Yoshiro Hatano, an academic from Kyushu University who was concerned about the effects of the western diet on the Japanese population. Quite simply, he thought that by asking people to exercise more, it would offset the problem.
The 10,000 step figure has since become synonymus with fitness tracking devices and people’s perception of what a good level of physical activity looks like.
Ideally, we should of course all spend more time moving. However, what we’re looking for here is the most effective way to spend your time moving and improve your physical health and secondly, can people adhere to such a fixed goal?
Research & Evidence.
So what’s the research on the 10,000 Steps?
Well, one study performed at Harvard Medical School, with only female particapnts, looked solely at whether or not more steps were associated with reduced mortality.
Here’s what they found:
- Sedentary females averaged 2,700 steps per day
- Women who averaged 4,400 steps per day had a 41% reduction in mortality
- Mortality rates improved up until 7,500 steps per day
- Benefits tailed off after 7,500 steps per day
In another experiment, highlighted on the BBC with Dr Michael Moseley, a group performing 10,000 steps per day were compared with a group asked to perform 3 x 10 minute blocks of walking. This was called the ‘Active 10’ approach. In this group partcipants were asked to walk at a brisk pace, a pace where they could ‘talk but not sing.’ The total number of steps totalled here is more like 3,000 per day.
- Only two out of the three asked to do the 10,000 steps completed the challenge, the two who completed also said it was a struggle.
- The group performing the 3 x 10 minutes found the challenge relatively easy to maintain
- The group performing 3 x 10 minutes performed 30% more ‘moderate to vigorous’ physical activity – the exercise intensity known to have the greatest health benefits for reducing such diseases as diabetes etc
Bringing it all together.
We’ve got to remember that the 10,000 step rule is from 1964. The researchers back then probabaly had great intentions. However, time have moved on.
- If you’re sedentary and only getting around 2,700 steps per day, then boosting this to 4,500 will have a great benefit on your health.
- Following the 3 x 10 min or ‘Active 10’ approach will bring about greater health benefits in a shorter period of time.
- As per above, adhering to this program will also be easier.
Exercise benefits don’t just come from volume. Greater variation is required to stimulate your body. This is shown in the above programs where gains correlate with greater intensity. In addition to this we also need to look at vigorous cardiovascular exercise and also strength training all of which can be performed in a more time efficent manner.
The 10,000 step program would forma a great baseline of health for other programs to be built upon. The ability to adopt such a program taking so much time would again be a limiting factor and a reason to adopt a program such as the ‘Active 10.’
All but the most committed of exercisers would find it hard to adhere to the 10,000 step program. Science into behaviour change suggests that starting tiny and by doing something you enjoy are the two strongest ways to start a program. By adopting a program that consumes less time and gives you quicker results, you will be more likely to maintain your habit.