10,000 steps not a magic number for fitness

There doesn’t appear to be any scientific basis for the idea that 10,000 steps should be everyone’s daily fitness goal, according to I-Min Lee, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Lee looked into the origins of the 10,000-step standard, which is commonly used as the default by fitness trackers and smartphone apps, and found that it appears to have started as a marketing strategy by a Japanese pedometer company in the 1960s. She said in a May 31, 2019 article in The Atlantic that the company’s product seems to have been named the “10,000 step meter” because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a person walking. Lee found no evidence that the health benefits of that particular number have ever been scientifically validated.

Lee said that she doesn’t think that 10,000 steps should be set as a goal for everyone, as it could be discouraging for those most in need of increased physical activity. “Some people are not walkers. They don’t have safe neighborhoods, or they feel unsteady on sidewalks,” she said. “You need to be more creative. Is this a person who needs to go to a gym class or the pool, or sit on a stationary bike?”

In a study published in JAMA on May 29, Lee and her coauthors found that for people who are sedentary, even modest increases in daily physical activity can bring significant health benefits. Elderly women who walked 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower premature mortality rates compared to the least active women, according to the study.

Read The Atlantic article: What 10,000 Steps Will Really Get You

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Brisk walking may reduce early death risk in older women (Harvard Chan School news)