Do we really need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

Researchers claim an average of 7,000 may be enough, but doctors and fitness experts say the more you walk, the better

A new study says that walking an average of 7,000 steps a day might be enough to reduce the risk of early death. Photo: Daniel Reche / Pixabay
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If there ever were a day to dust off the pedometer and limber up for a bracing march, it’s today — World Health Day.

But before you set your target to 10,000 steps, there’s something you should know: the last 3,000 steps may well be pointless, according to a report published in The Lancet in March.

Although doctors stress the importance of a daily step count, the 10,000-step target was, in fact, plucked from thin air by a Japanese marketing company which was advertising a pedometer during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The step-counter was called manpo-kei, which literally means “10,000-steps meter”, but new research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found the PR team may have overshot the mark.

Walking is a great way to relieve anxiety. It's an ideal way to unwind and forget about the stresses of everyday life
Dr Lina Shibib, clinical nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres

After analysing 15 studies covering 47,471 adults across the world, the researchers discovered that walking between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day was enough to reduce the risk of early death for those over the age of 60, and walking more than 8,000 steps didn’t make a difference to the risk. For younger strutters, too, the benefits plateaued somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day.

This is contrary to a study by The George Institute for Global Health, which suggested upping your daily steps to 10,000 could have a huge impact on your health. The 2015 study was the first time researchers made the link between exercise — measured directly through pedometers — and reduced mortality over time in people who appeared healthy at the outset.

The study monitored 3,000 Australians with pedometers over a period of five years, and found that a sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1,000 to 10,000 per day had a 46 per cent lower mortality risk.

In comparison, a sedentary person who increased his or her steps to 3,000 per day, five days a week, had a 12 per cent lower mortality rate.

But what do health experts and gym buffs in the UAE have to say about step count?

Walk more for good health

Dr Lina Shibib, a clinical nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres in Dubai, still says 10,000 steps a day should be the minimum taken by the average adult, despite the new data. “If you have a specific objective in mind, such as weight loss or muscle strengthening, it would then be required to increase the intensity of walking,” she says.

Walking regularly can assist in burning calories and toning muscles
Dr Lina Shibib, clinical nutritionist, Medcare

There are endless benefits to walking, Shibib says, and not all of them are physical. “Walking is a great way to relieve anxiety,” she says. “It's an ideal way to unwind and forget about the stresses of everyday life.

“Furthermore, science has shown that the endorphins created by exercise make you feel better immediately by releasing mood-improving hormones and preventing chronic anxiety.”

Although walking is not the most strenuous exercise, Shibib says upping the step count can help you shed a few kilos.

“Walking regularly can assist in maintaining a healthy weight, burning calories, and toning and strengthening your muscles,” she says. “Walking can also assist in reducing blood pressure, and preventing hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.”

It's all a numbers game

Personal trainer Angela Minervini has just given birth to her first child and has turned to walking as a way to get back into fitness. “Walking is a great form of exercise for pre and postnatal [care] and keeps you moving without overexertion,” explains Minervini, who runs Minivation Personal Training, an online coaching programme.

By setting numbers, there’s a good chance you’ll get to 10,000 and stop, whereas otherwise, you might have kept walking
Angela Minervini, personal trainer

“It’s also really nice as a new parent to get out again and enjoy some fresh air, and you can take your baby with you as opposed to parking up the pram in the weights section.”

When it comes to the daily recommendation, Minervini holds little regard for set numbers. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” she says. “The important thing is to do a little more than you were doing before if your goal is to become more active.

“By setting numbers, there’s a good chance you’ll get to 10,000 and stop, whereas otherwise, you might have kept walking. Setting strict markers isn’t always a good thing.”

However, fitness instructor Gerald Du disagrees and says targets are a great motivator when it comes to exercise. “Trying to achieve your target step goal is a fun way of challenging yourself, plus that feeling of fulfilment after achieving it is priceless,” he says.

Fellow fitness instructor Megan Leach leads high-energy classes at The Platform Studios in Dubai, but her take on step count isn’t as strict. “I’d say that 5,000 is enough, but aim for 10,000,” she says. “Cardiovascular health equals longevity and boosts your mood instantly.”

For Leach, who has been a backup dancer for Madonna, steps are only the beginning.

“Although steps are a great way to set a goal towards activity, there are a variety of ways to move your body and raise your heart rate including dancing, rowing, skating and yoga.

“Movement is the key to living a long, healthy and balanced life.”

Updated: April 20, 2022, 12:51 PM