A professor of exercise science gives the facts about this “gold standard” of health.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
In a January 8, 2024, Instagram post, Rachele Pojednic, Ph.D., Ed.M., FACSM, associate professor and program director of exercise science at Norwich University, posed the question: Do you really need 10,000 steps a day?
“The data says no,” says Pojednic.
The data Pojednic is referring to is, in part, a 2023 study we previously reported on from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This study suggests that accumulating 8,000 steps a day is associated with improved health and longevity.
Other studies have found similar results. For example, a 2023 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that on average, for healthy older adults, 5,000 to 7,000 steps per day reduced the risk of dying early.
And another 2021 study in JAMA Network Open found that taking 7,000 steps a day was the sweet spot when it came to reducing mortality rates.
“On average, 7k is closer to what the research says we need for health,” says Pojednic in her post. “In fact, a very recent study showed that as little as 4K steps per day can have a significant benefit on brain function and volume—this includes the gray matter, which helps with processing information, and the white matter, which connects different brain regions, as well as the hippocampus, important for memory.”
Pojednic goes on to explain that the Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, which was a meta-analysis of 12 smaller studies, showed that as few as 2,600 steps per day demonstrated cardiovascular benefits and reduced risk of early death—and that those benefits continued to increase up to about 8,800 steps per day and then leveled off.
The interesting—and perhaps a bit unsettling—part, considering it has become a sort of gold standard, is that the 10,000 steps per day recommendation was never even based on science.
“The 10k steps guideline isn’t rooted in scientific evidence at all,” explains Pojednic. “Rather, in the 1960s, a Japanese company created a pedometer called ‘Manpo-kei,’ that translates to ‘10,000 steps meter,’ and that number stuck.”
The Bottom Line
The good news is that if you’re far from hitting the 10,000 steps per day goal, Pojednic says it’s okay. Do what you can because every little bit counts.
“Lots of things—injury and illness, busy schedules, travel, lack of sleep—keep us from being able to get that much walking in per day,” says Pojednic. “Ten thousand steps equates to about 5 miles of walking. Just try to get in what you can, and know that even a couple thousand steps not only counts, but that each step forward is keeping you healthy!”
Read the original article on Eating Well.