January 9, 2014


10,000 Steps : How one number became sacred in fitness circles. (Wayne Curtis, 1/09/14, Smart Set)

So what exactly does 10,000 steps involve? And do researchers think that number actually results in health gains?

Give or take, 10,000 steps is five miles -- depending on terrain, your natural stride, and your proclivity to game the number by gently jiggling your wrist while sprawled on a couch. Not that I've ever done that. So it's about 90 minutes of walking every day. It's also about twice what the average American walks daily in general getting about: moving from parked car to mall, from office cubicle to break room.

Many recent studies have shown that 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise results in a dramatic increase in health benefits. Moderate exercise can include brisk walking, which is often defined as a pace at which you can carry on a conversation with a companion, but are still too winded to sing. If you can belt out, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow" while walking, you're not walking fast enough. (Also, you're walking too close to me.)

Research shows that by walking 30 minutes a day your chances of a premature death can drop by 20 percent. Studies have also shown that increasing your walking from 30 to 90 minutes doesn't come close to tripling the benefits. In fact, it cuts premature mortality merely by an additional four percent.

So why bother with 10,000 steps? For reasons that are still being figured out, studies still show that it's a number that works. (The fact that researchers are testing the scientific merits of a Japanese marketing slogan is charming -- akin to the National Institutes for Health launching a major study to see if Wheaties actually produces champions.)

A 2004 study published in Sports Medicine found "growing evidence that 10,000 steps/day is an amount of physical activity that is associated with indicators of good health," including lower body fat and blood pressure. Another study of people with type 2 diabetes found that those who walked 10,000 steps or more (sometimes nearly twice that) over a nearly two-month period lost on average 16 pounds more than a control group that walked just 4,000 steps a day.

What's more, there's a utilitarian advantage to aiming high: If you come in low, you're still reaping benefits. And there's the fact that all your daily steps won't be brisk (is that "Tonight" from West Side Story I hear you singing?). By shooting for 10,000 you're bettering the odds that more of your steps will fall in the brisk zone.

It's about fitness, not fatness

Posted by at January 9, 2014 7:18 PM

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