Traditional knowledge has led us to believe that we need to take 10,000 steps a day to be healthy, but recent studies have challenged that idea.
In 2019, Dr I-Min Lee of the Harvard Medical School and his colleagues published a paper showing that taking only 4,400 steps a day already reduces the risk of dying compared to taking 2,700 steps a day. Interestingly, they also found out that while mortality rates decrease the more steps you take, the benefit peaks at 7,500 steps a day.
Furthermore, other studies have confirmed that step-intensity, which refers to how fast you get your heart rate going as you walk around, does NOT affect mortality rates once the number of steps has been accounted for.
So, does this mean that you should stop taking long walks and that all that time doing cardio was a waste of time?
The answer is obviously NO. If 4,400 steps bring about significant health benefits, then it is clear that 5,000 does as well. Just because the sweet spot for lowering mortality rates when it comes to step count is 7,500 and that stepping intensity does not factor into the equation does not mean that they don’t have other health benefits. For example, stroke patients benefit greatly from higher stepping intensity.
The real question now is, if studies show that the new goal should be 7,500 steps a day and just 4,400 steps a day already helps you live longer, why does everyone say that the magic number is 5,000 steps?
Where did the number 5,000 come from? Is it all just part of a fad?
It actually comes from the fact that most people take 5,000 steps per day doing everyday activities like housework and shopping. What this means is, unlike 10,000 steps a day, the 5,000 magic number is very doable for most people. Once you realize this, the journey to 5,000 steps turns from something daunting to a realistic fitness goal, and that aiming for an even higher step is very much possible.
Steps to upping your step count
1. Set a realistic goal
To set your step goal you first need to know the average number of steps you take per day. Count your daily steps for a couple of weeks using a dedicated pedometer, a smart watch or even your phone. Do NOT push yourself to get in more steps during this time. If you do, your baseline will be off so that it will be much harder for you to achieve your new goal.
Once you know how many steps you usually take each day, add anywhere from a thousand to three thousand to that figure to get your step goal. How much you add depends on your current fitness level and your lifestyle.
If you are sedentary with a current step count that is less than the average person, then aiming to increase your step count by 3,000 a day will probably mean that you’ll fail. Perhaps adding just 1,000 steps for the first couple of months is more realistic. As you get used to walking more and also get more fit, then you can add another one thousand or even two thousand steps a day. Stay away from unrealistic goals because they can be demotivating.
If you are like most people and are already hitting the 5,000 steps a day average, then adding 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day so you can achieve maximum health benefits is doable. That does not mean it will be easy, but it can be achieved. However, you still need to take into account your circumstance. Sticking to 5,000 steps a day and aiming for consistency without increasing step count is just as worthy a goal.
Now, if you live an active lifestyle and gets in 7,500 steps or more each day, remember to give yourself a reward before going on to set new fitness goals. Want to increase your step count? Do so. Want to up your stepping intensity? Then go for it. Want to take on a challenge and train for a marathon? That is great. Want to focus on mental and spiritual wellbeing? Even better!
The point of goal setting is that you figure out what you need and want in your quest to better yourself and do so in a way that gives you a good chance of achieving your goal.
2. Take that first step!
There is no secret formula for getting to your step goal. We all know the saying,
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Though you’re not aiming for a thousand miles, the truth stands, it all starts with a single step. And when it comes to walking, the funny thing is that taking one step is something you don’t even have to think about because it’s just something you do as you go on about your day.
3. Hit two birds with one stone
Increasing your step count might not seem a very hard goal but counting steps could get old easily. What you can do to make sure you don’t fall in a rut is to try to hit multiple goals or incorporate more steps into your daily routine.
One example is to make it a goal to spend more time with your child by going around the neighborhood playing Pokémon Go with them. It makes for great bonding time and helps both you and your child get some exercise.
You can resolve to eat healthier, stop ordering in and go out to buy fresh produce for you to cook at home. This lets you eat in a mindful manner, get in more steps, and save money.
You can also stop charging that Robovac and go back to good old sweeping and vacuuming or give your meditation time a new twist by trying walking meditation.
Other things you may want to do include taking your dog for longer walks or trying different, and farther, coffee shops and restaurants during work breaks.
You will find that a few steps can add up to hundreds, or even thousands, quickly. So just find things you need or want to do, do them, and you will have a greater chance of success.