The 10,000-step campaign has become very popular recently. Its popularity grew almost at the same time with “healthy” apps, smartwatches and smartphones. Apparently, completing 10,000 steps on a daily basis should improve your health by reducing risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, among others health conditions. But the reality and science offer a different view. So far, there isn’t any scientific basis to prove what apps, watch and phone companies promote with the 10,000-step goal. But where does this idea come from?
This round number concept was invented by the Japanese pedometer company just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, to stop people being lazy. At that time, a marketing firm promoted and sold a pedometer called the “Manpo-Kei”, which means 10,000 steps in Japanese. But unfortunately, the science doesn’t support any of the claims fostered for the pedometer industry. The 10.000-step idea seems to respond to that great marketing campaign for selling millions of pedometers or smartphones. Health seems to be a secondary goal.
Many different studies across the globe do not show a unified positive message for this activity. For example, a small study of Scottish postal workers in 2017 showed that health benefits were only more likely in those walking over 15,000 steps, but there is no clear cut off (1).
A recent research in 2019, from Harvard University, looked if the 10,000 daily steps activity could improve longevity in women (2). For the study, more than 16,000 women were tracked during 7 days, for 4 years. Their average age was 72. The study counted their actual numbers of steps and it showed a difference in death rate between those who walked more and whose who walked less. However, they hardly managed to reach 10000 steps. Women who reached almost 4,400 steps a day were twice as likely to be alive as women who took only 2,700 steps per day. Clearly, more active life seems to have a positive impact in humans. But the same study questioned the round 10000 number because, apparently, no additional benefits were reported for those women who took extra daily steps, above 7,500.
Don’t count steps
There are many more studies and all of them have a common outcome: the 10,000 steps campaign hardly improves human health. Yes, humans need to move and stay active, but an obsession with counting every single move may not be healthy at all. We are designed to move as much as we can.
Do I seem to contradict myself when I say that a more active life would be better when, at the same time, I explain that there is no evidence for the 10,000 steps activity? No, I don’t contradict myself. Don’t be fooled. The point that I am trying to make is this, actually two points.
First point: move, move and move as much as you can every day. Forget about numbers on smartphones. Listen to your body, one day you may go up to 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 steps and another time just to 5,000 or 3,000. I won’t go lower than 3.000 steps, because I am sure most people reach that number every day, without even thinking about it. Just a 30-minute walk, going to the office, getting out of the house for shopping or walking a dog, you probably do almost 3,000 steps.
Second point. What about the food that people eat? What about a diet? The 10,000 goal campaign totally ignores people’s eating habits. Once again, health authorities focus, intentionally or not, on superficial matters rather than on the root of the problem. If governments really wanted a healthier society, they would apply science facts accurately and they wouldn’t promote “unhealthy” marketing campaigns. But governments and Big Pharma lobbies work and act in the shadow, to enrich their profits on the deteriorating people’s health.
I would love to know how much impact the “Let’s Move” campaign in the US, promoted by Michelle Obama, has had on Americans. Yes, let’s move and after a couple of steps give me some fizzy drink with no added sugar, but full of sweeteners that are even worse than the actual toxic white powder. Open your eyes. The health care systems around the world don’t care about you. They need sick people constantly taking drugs, to increase their profits. Yes, I agree, move as much as you can every day, without counting your steps. Just listen to your body. And also understand the food that you eat. As Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food”.