The human body is designed to move. And that's just what it did for thousands of years. But, throughout the 20th century, technological advances, such as cars and computers, meant that we no longer needed to physically move in order to get things done.
Fast-forward to the present day and we're faced with headlines claiming that 'sitting disease' may be more of a threat to our health than smoking.
As a way to counteract our increasingly sedentary lives and encourage people to move, we're often told to complete at least 10,000 steps each day.
But where did this figure come from? And is this the right number of daily steps for you?
Read on to find out how walking can improve your health and boost weight loss, as well as how to reach your own daily step goals.
Why 10,000 Steps?
Ten thousand is a nice round number, but where did the idea of completing this many steps per day come from?
It's actually a completely arbitrary figure and is the result of a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign. As a way to capitalize on the popularity of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the company Yamasa designed and produced the world's first wearable step-counter. This device was called 'manpo-kei', which translates as, you guessed it, '10,000-step meter'.
So, like the daily target of five portions of fruit and veg, the 10,000-step goal was cooked up as part of a marketing campaign rather than scientific research. Despite this, the World Health Organization and various national health departments have since adopted the 10,000-step goal.
But, having a set number of steps to aim for does have its advantages. As with recommendations for drinking two liters of water a day or eating a certain amount of fruit and veg, numerical health goals are easier to promote and track. While the 10,000-step goal may be an arbitrary number, it is better than vague recommendations to 'walk more'.
And, there is scientific evidence that shows support for the 10,000-step goal. For example, this number of steps provides more health benefits than 3,000 or 5,000 steps. And, 10,000 is also an achievable number of daily steps for most people.
How Can I Track My Daily Steps?
Counting steps has become popular for many people who want to lead more active lives, but who don't have time for the gym or exercise classes. Some people even make a game out of hitting their 10,000-step target a day or may compete with friends to reach their goal.
But, how can you track your daily steps? Thankfully there's no need to count while you walk, as that could get a little boring. Instead, you have a couple of options to reach your daily step goals.
There are many pedometer apps you can download onto your phone. They can be pretty basic though, and you have to remember to turn the counter on before you get walking.
If you're serious about counting your steps, a wearable activity tracker is a better choice. It's also too easy to lose track of the time you spend sitting. Seeing an activity tracker on your wrist is an effective prompt to get you moving again.
And, there are lots of different activity trackers to choose from. Popular options are the Fitbit Versa, the Fitbit Charge 2, or the Apple Watch. Prices vary as do their range of functions. But, you're sure to find an activity tracker you love and can personalize to suit your individual style.
Tracking Your Steps
All styles of Fitbit come programmed with the 10,000-step goal. This equates to around 8 km or 5 miles. For the average person, this is around an hour and 40 minutes of walking.
While that might seem a lot, all the times you move around in a day count towards your goal. And, most people find the 10,000-step target challenging but not impossible to fit into even a busy day.
You'll find that one of the biggest gains you'll get from counting your steps is an awareness of how much time you devote to getting up and moving. This strengthens your connection to your body and encourages movement.
And, research shows that having a pedometer actually motivated people to exercise more. In fact, it was the combination of a pedometer and having a step goal to aim for that was most effective.
Is the 10,000-Step Goal Right for Everyone?
Having a step goal is a great way to motivate individuals to lead less sedentary lifestyles. But, the 10,000-step goal isn't necessarily right for everyone.
Lower Daily Step Goals
If you want to start increasing the number of steps you complete every day then that's a great start. But, it may not be wise to go from almost zero to 10,000 overnight.
For elderly people or those with chronic illnesses, suddenly ramping up to that many steps a day could worsen medical issues or lead to injury.
And, although walking does not put as much pressure on your joints as running, for morbidly obese people, having to carry their weight while they walk 8 km could be medically unwise. Similarly, for some people, the 10,000-step goal could seem unreachable. As a result, they may give up altogether on trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.
A lower number of steps could be both more beneficial and more realistic for some groups. Evidence shows that less than 5,000 steps per day indicate a sedentary lifestyle. So, aiming for a minimum of around 5,000 steps would at least encourage formerly sedentary people to move more.
Higher Daily Step Goals
If you're able to reach the 10,000-step goal without problems, don't feel that you have to limit yourself to this number. In fact, research shows that as many as 19,000 steps per day are necessary for optimum health.
There may be days when you struggle to reach the 10,000-step target, but if your totals increase over time, you're going in the right direction. The best motivation is a goal that is both achievable and challenging. So, be sure to challenge yourself when it comes to your daily step target, whatever that might be for you personally.
And don't forget that walking speed matters too. When you're walking at a faster intensity, your body is working harder, meaning more health benefits. An ideal pace is 100 steps per minute for optimum health benefits. So, you could use your activity tracker to help you improve both your step count and pace over time.
Adjusting Your Individual Step Goals
The 10,000-step goal might not be right for everyone depending on their health, weight, age and current activity level.
But, your fitness goals also determine how many steps you should aim for each day. Here's how to set your step goals to reach your personal goals:
To Establish a Healthier Lifestyle
If you're recovering from an injury or new to exercise, start slow to avoid further injury or overexertion. First, you need to wear a Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Charge 2, or another activity tracker, and see how many steps you take a week. This number is your baseline.
Your aim should be to add 1,000 daily steps per week. If your current baseline is 5,000 steps, try and make it to 6,000 steps per day next week, then 7,000 the week after.
Once you start to walk more, you'll enjoy a wealth of mental and physical health benefits. Research shows that improvements in mood correlate with an increase in daily steps. Walking also helps relieve depression, improve sleep quality, cut stroke risk, and slow mental decline.
To Complement Your Exercise Regime
Even if you regularly hit the gym, you also need to get your step count in. Exercising for an hour a day doesn't compensate for the negative effects of too much sitting.
In fact, constant sitting may even negate the positive effects of your workouts. This is because long periods of inactivity limit blood flow in the body and inhibit nutrients from reaching your muscles.
And, walking helps your muscles recover quicker, so it's a great complement to weight lifting. Which is why Aussie personal trainer Madalin Giorgetta aims to complete 12,000 steps a day as well as regular bodybuilding sessions for optimum health.
To Lose Weight
Low-intensity activities such as walking are far more important than many people realize.
'Non-Exercise' Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), is the energy expended for activities such as walking, gardening, and fidgeting. It accounts for most of our daily energy expenditure, and increasing NEAT has more of an impact on metabolism than moderate or high-intensity activities.
And, as we all know by now, the key to weight loss is expending more calories than you consume. So, increasing your NEAT by completing more steps each day is a great way to lose weight.
How many daily steps you need to take to lose weight depends on your current weight and walking intensity. But, adding an extra 10,000 daily steps onto your current step rate typically burns about 2,000 to 3,500 more calories a week. And 3,500 calories are equal to just under 0.5 kg, or one pound, of body fat.
So, depending on your weight and walking intensity, you could shift around 0.5 kg a week by completing 10,000 more steps a day.
That said, weight loss isn't just about walking, or exercise in general. Factors such as diet and sleep also play a part in losing weight, which is where the Fitbit comes in. Fitbits don't just count your steps like the basic pedometers of the past, they also monitor diet and sleep patterns to keep you accountable throughout your weight loss journey and beyond.
How to Reach Your Step Goals
Here are some great suggestions for ways to reach your personal step goals as a way to improve your health and boost weight loss:
1. Walk the Dog
Dog owners are 34 percent more likely to get the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise a week than those without pet pooches. Sharing in the dog walking duties will make it a lot easier to reach your step goals.
2. Go for a Post-Dinner Stroll
If you don't have a dog, a post-dinner walk is a great habit to get into. Walking for at least 15 minutes after eating aids digestion and boosts your metabolism for up to three hours too.
3. Take the Stairs
Elevators and escalators are enemies to your daily step goals. Always take the stairs-at home, at work, at the train station, anywhere.
4. Take Your Break Outside
Go outside during your lunch break and aim to complete a 15-minute walk around the block. Not only will a brisk stroll at lunchtime help you get your steps in, but you'll also benefit from an energy boost and return more focused.
5. Park Farther Away
Those extra few hundred steps across the parking lot add up quickly. And, parking your car farther away from your home might just make you use it less for short journeys.
6. Walk to the Shop
We're not suggesting you walk to the supermarket to do your weekly grocery shop and struggle home laden down with bags. But, for those times when you need to buy one or two things, go on foot.
7. Get Off Early
If you commute to work by bus or train, get off one or two stops early to increase your daily step count.
8. Drink More Water
Achieve your recommended water intake and your step goals by making regular trips to the water cooler at work.
9. A Walking Date
There's something romantic about going on a walking date with your other half, especially at sunset.
10. Talk Face-to-Face
Instead of sending emails to your co-workers, go and speak to them face-to-face. Not only will you get more steps in, but talking in person also aids effective communication.
The Truth About Your Daily Step Goals
While 10,000 steps might not be the magical number everyone needs for optimum health, it is good to have a concrete target to aim for.
Regardless of your health and weight loss objectives, walking is a great exercise. It's accessible to everyone and aiming to complete more steps each day has a host of benefits.
And, with an activity tracker to keep you accountable and motivate you further, it's much easier to reach your personal daily step goal-whatever might be the right number for you.