Many of us follow our steps with smart watches, pedometers, or phone apps, and of course we're thrilled to reach the all-important 10,000-step goal of the day. In the app I use, green confetti slides congratulatory across the screen. The app also logs strikes and challenges me how many times I can handle a one-week stretch of more than 10,000 steps a day. Answer: rare.
There are debates about the accuracy of some pedometer, and it is obvious that they are a blunt instrument for measuring exercise. If you sprint, your score is not higher than when you're joking, but there's a real difference in terms of fitness benefits. Nevertheless, they give a rough indication of how active you were.
If you want to count steps, the size of your target matters. Most tracking devices are set to a default goal of 1
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The magic number "10,000" goes back to a marketing campaign that took place just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. A company started selling pedometer called Manpo-kei: "man" means 10,000, "po" means steps and "kei" means meter. It was very successful and the number seems to have stuck.
Since then, studies have compared the health benefits of 5,000 steps to those of 10,000 steps, and it's not surprising that the higher number is better. Until recently, however, not all intervening numbers had been investigated. They have not been extensively tested on the general adult population. New research from I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and her team focused on a group of more than 16,000 women in their 70s. They compared the number of steps a day with the probability of dying for some reason. known as total mortality. Each woman spent a week wearing a device to measure the movement during waking hours. Then the researchers waited.
When they persecuted the women on average four years and three months later, 504 had died. How many steps did the survivors make? Was it the magical 10,000 steps a day?
In fact, the average number of survivors was only 5,500 – and progress was gradual. Women who made more than 4,000 steps a day were far more likely to be alive than women taking only 2,700 steps. It is surprising that such a small difference can have consequences for something as important as longevity.
According to this logic one could assume that the more steps they took, the better. That was correct for a series of steps – but only up to 7,500 steps per day, after which the benefits were then on a plateau. More than that does not affect life expectancy.
One drawback of this study, of course, is that we can not be sure that the steps before the illness that killed her have taken place. The researchers included only women who were fit enough to go outside their home and asked people if they could assess their own health, but maybe there were some participants who were good enough to go, but already not good enough to go very far. In other words, they took less steps because they already felt uncomfortable, and the steps themselves made no difference.
However, for this age group, this study suggests that perhaps 7,500 will suffice – although it is possible that additional steps may provide additional protection against certain conditions. The higher number of stages could have been an indicator for women who were generally more active throughout their lives, and this helped them to live longer. For this reason, it is difficult to determine the exact health benefits of extra steps alone.
Then the question arises about the optimal number of steps in psychological terms. The goal of 10,000 seems to be a high goal to be achieved every day, which may lead you to not worry. If you miss your goal every day, this is a problem. In a study of British teenagers, the 13- and 14-year-olds initially enjoyed the novelty of achieving the goal, but soon realized how difficult it was to sustain it and complained that it was not fair.
I did my own psychological experiment on myself by changing the default target in my app in 9,000 steps. I fancy running around the other thousand at home if I do not have my phone with me, but in truth I just want to encourage myself by being more successful.
To increase the step number of the most sedentary, a lower goal could be psychologically better.
But even if one counts steps, there is a danger that we will be deprived of the actual pleasure of walking. Jordan Etkin, a psychologist at Duke University in the US, found that people who followed their steps went further but did not like them because they said it felt like work. When judged at the end of the day, their happiness level was lower than those who left without their steps being followed.
Counting steps can also be counterproductive for the fittest – a sign that they should stop when they did it reached the magic 10,000, instead of becoming fitter by doing more, for example.
What can we conclude from all this? Count on whether it motivates you, but remember that 10,000 steps are nothing special. Set the right goal for you. It could be more, it could be less – or it could completely kick your tracker. Disclaimer
The entire contents of this column are provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for the medical advice of your own physician or a physician other medical professionals. The BBC is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this website. The BBC is not liable for the content of the external websites listed or for commercial products or services mentioned or recommended on these pages. Always consult your family doctor if you are concerned about your health in any way.
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