The myth of 10,000 steps a day

Up front, I should say that the concept of getting 10,000 steps a day is not entirely a myth. It is just a bit of an oversimplification. Read on to learn more about how to maximize the health benefits of walking.

1) 10,000 steps is not always feasible.

If you are wondering, 10,000 steps is roughly five miles. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you simply can’t get in 10,000 steps/per day. Even if you are in good shape, it takes 1.5 hours to walk 10,000 steps. I don’t always have that long to walk either.

2) Any amount of steps is helpful.

If you can’t get in 10,000 steps/day, try for 5,000. Recent studies show that you get health benefits (including reduced cancer, heart disease, and dementia risk) from as little as a few thousand steps/day.

For example, one study showed that you lower your risk of dementia by 50% if you walk 10,000 steps/day but can still lower your risk by 25% with just 3,800 steps/day.

3) The speed at which you walk is important.

You would probably be better off walking fewer steps at a faster pace rather than ambling a lot of steps at a slow pace. Studies show that you get a far greater benefit if you walk faster. If you want to measure yourself, try to be in the range of 80-120 steps/minute.

4) There is nothing magical about steps at all really.

If you want to maximize your time, forget about steps and just find a way to get a bit breathless for thirty minutes each day. By that, I mean you should be exercising at a level where you would have some difficulty having a conversation.

5) You do not have to get all the steps at once.

If you are moving constantly throughout the day, it can be hard to keep track of your steps, but those steps count too. In fact, there is no real evidence that they are not just as beneficial as the benefit you would get from doing all your walking at once.

6) Remember that none of this is a magic bullet.

I recently overheard a conversation where someone claimed that she walked 30,000 steps per day because of her job. Yet, she clearly was not in great physical shape.

I don’t really doubt her because here is something I know to be true: you can’t overcome other bad health habits and a bad diet with some magical number of steps. It does not work that way.

Even so, tracking steps is a great way to get started on the road to better health. You can get free apps for your phone that will do this for you quite easily and record your progress over time. It can be fun to watch the miles add up. According to my app, I have walked enough to almost cross the Saraha Desert in the past year (1200 miles)!