Do you really have to take 10,000 steps a day?
10,000 steps. Only a marketing slogan
The number is round, commercial and easy to remember… but it has never been scientifically approved. Anchored in the collective imagination, the dogma of 10,000 steps per day is only a purely marketing argument. A slogan imagined by a Japanese company to surf on the fervor around the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Back in 1965, the Yamasa company marketed a pedometer named “Manpo-kei”. Literal translation: 10 000 steps-meters. The choice of the number is arbitrary and corresponds to the idea that the Japanese engineers have of an active and healthy lifestyle.
This value was later supported by a study conducted by the University of Kyushu which concluded that “since Japanese people took an average of 3,500 to 5,000 steps per day, 10,000 steps would allow them to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease,” explains a journalist from the Guardian. Problem: the “physical characteristics of the Japanese, their diet and lifestyle do not correspond to those of Western countries”, says Martine Duclos, head of the sports medicine department at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital.
6,000 steps, or 30 minutes of walking per day
But then, if the 10,000-step milestone is a myth: what are the scientists’ recommendations?
“Up to 7,000 steps, the effectiveness of physical activity increases. But beyond this figure, no study proves that it continues to increase” explains Martine Duclos.
The National Observatory of Physical Activity and Sedentariness (ONAPS) recommends a more realistic program: 6,000 steps every day, five times a week. That is the equivalent of 30 minutes of walking at a steady pace. “The ideal is that the walk is fast and active and that you sweat a little”.
Such recommendations are similar to those of the World Health Organization (WHO) which invites to “devote at least 150 to 300 minutes per week to a moderate intensity endurance activity or practice at least 75 to 150 minutes of sustained intensity endurance activity”.
To combat physical inactivity and help employees to get back into motion, companies are focusing on connected physical activity challenges (game-based) or more comprehensive programs, including physical activity sessions on video-based, health education webinars, quizzes and fitness assessments.
The health benefits are countless and are the target of new scientific evidence almost every week: reduction of cancer risks, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, reduction of stress or fatigue, strengthening of muscles or even memory…
Effects from 4,400 steps
Doing 4,400 steps per day is already having an effect. This ceiling value echoes a study conducted by the Harvard Medical School on 16,741 women aged 62 to 102.
After equipping healthy subjects with an accelerometer (used to record accelerations, shocks and movements) for four years, the prestigious American university demonstrated the beneficial effect of a daily walking session on life expectancy.
More specifically, the mortality rate of women who walked at least 4,400 steps daily was lower. “With increasing steps, mortality rates fall before stabilizing at 7,500 steps,” stating the report.
Frequency is far more important than volume
Should we worry about our health when we walk less? In a report published in 2019, Santé Publique France does not announce a quantifiable objective but recommends “at least 30 minutes of dynamic physical activity per day”, while advising to “do it gradually” in case of beginning or resumption.
An analysis shared by many specialists who believe that the number of steps has only a marker role. The important thing is regularity. In this search for reference point, mobile applications or connected objects can be used as stimulants.
For example, if you take 3,000 steps a day, you can try to take 4,000 steps the following week, and so on over time,” explains Martine Duclos. The pedometer allows you to know where you stand, to set goals and to gradually reach the recommendations.”