Many times overlooked as a form of exercise, walking can improve your health, build up your stamina and burn excess calories. We know that sedentary lifestyles are unhealthy, and if you’re averaging less than 5,000 steps a day could mean weight gain, increase the risk of bone loss, muscle atrophy, becoming diabetic and could lead to a litany of issues.

And with step counters build into almost every mobile device, it’s now effortless to find out how many steps you took in a day. An entire industry has been built around the claim that 10,000 steps a day were necessary to be healthy.

Where it all started.

The ‘walking 10,000 steps’ regime per day for health and weight loss was originally popularized in 1960’s Japan, which so happens was tied to a marketing campaign, before the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Dr. Yoshio Hatano, an academic at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare wanted to get the Japanese more active as he was concerned that the Japanese people would fall victim to a Westernized lifestyle. This was when pedometers became all the rage. At that time a device called the ‘manpo-kei’ (10,000 step meter) was released. Dr. Yoshio Hatano believed that if he could increase people’s daily steps from 4,000 to 10,000, then they would burn approximately 500 calories more per day and remain slim.

Since then, 10,000 steps has become a daily goal for most of us who want to keep fit and stay healthy. That was the target to hit if you’re going to stay healthy. The 10,000 figure became the norm, and that was the end of it.

The pedometer, of course, has given way to Fitbit’s and other popular sports and fitness devices. Every health app out there (about 200k with over a billion downloads) wants us to get to the magic number of daily steps and it’s become so commonplace that most of us take it for granted and don’t bother to question that figure.

Exercise should be brief, intense, infrequent, safe, and purposeful.

But hitting 10,000 steps a day for the average person isn’t based on science. There isn’t a one-size fits all target that we should be hitting. Many other factors have to be considered. For example, age, weight and how healthy you are. Why not 20,000 steps?

One of the issues with the 10,000-steps-a-day goal is that it doesn’t take into account intensity. Increasing your heart rate may well be even more important than the exact number of steps taken each day. Scientist are currently conducting research to see whether people who take 10,000 steps a day by merely walking around their house achieve the same health benefits as those who do so by brisk walking or playing a sport.

Most of the studies that have been conducted to examine whether 10,000 steps a day is optimal for human health are themselves relatively suspect. They merely compare people who have done 10,000 steps a day with those who have done far lower numbers, then measure calories burned, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Naturally, the results would favor those doing more steps.

Even official health bodies can’t agree on what number the average person should be targetting on a daily. In the US, The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or half that for vigorous exercise. Equating to roughly 7,000-8,000 steps per day. The UK National Obesity Forum suggests 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day as a target. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends a daily step count of 8,000 to 10,000.

Studies suggest that by doing moderate-intensity activity, you get the most significant health benefits. There is a large body of evidence to suggest that by [getting your heart beating faster] you can lower your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Walking around the whole day and reaching 10,000 step doesn’t really do much.

For those who are in poor health, have type 2 diabetes, or those more mature individuals who are used to a more sedentary lifestyle, there are now concerns that making a rapid jump to 10,000 steps a day could have negative consequences. For others, the milestone may seem intimidating and can derail intentions to increase daily physical activity.

So what’s the deal now?

Targeting 10,000 steps a day may or may not be for you. That figure shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your health and fitness goals. If you are just starting out or have health concerns just stick with a low number. Or better yet. Drop the step counter. Your body will tell you when you are ready for more, or if you should sit your arse down.

If you’ve been continuously working out then the average 10,000 steps a day wouldn’t even apply to you because you’d be hitting higher numbers. Whatever it is, always seek your doctor’s advice.

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