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10,000 steps a day – is it fact or fiction?

18.04.19 Learn, Play Blog SumoSalad
10,000 steps a day

To stay fit and healthy we need to exercise regularly. We also have to be physically active every day, too. We have all heard the goal of 10,000 steps per day but why 10,000 and is there any truth to it? Fitness and Wellness Coach Timo Topp investigates. 

Sitting kills and movement heals

Movement is life. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit in chairs all day. You have no doubt heard that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ as one of the major causes of poor health. NASA life scientist Joan Vernikos sums it up perfectly in the title of her book Sitting Kills, Movement Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness and Early Death – and Exercise Alone Won’t. Medical studies show that sitting too much shortens life expectancy and the reverse is true, that moving more will enhance health and wellbeing. If you have an Apple Watch you are familiar with the target to stand for a couple of minutes each hour. Vernikos suggests a different tact, that changing posture every 15 minutes will enhance wellbeing and recommends a target of 30-35 postural changes throughout the day.

The Tokyo Olympics

So where did the idea of 10,000 steps originate? It was born out of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the work of Dr Yoshiro Hatamo. He was becoming despondent that the Japanese people were becoming too westernised and not moving enough. His studies suggested the average person was notching up 3-4,000 steps per day. He came up with a recommendation to increase that to 10,000 steps per day. In order to measure this he created the ‘manpo-kei’ the first pedometer to count steps. So the birth of 10,000 steps originates from a marketing campaign to sell pedometers on the back of an honourable goal to help people improve their health.

What WHO says about 10,000 steps

10,000 steps has been universally accepted by the World Health Organisation and many other countries, including Australia, as the target to aim for to help promote a healthy lifestyle. 10000steps.org.au is an Australian initiative to get people more active and promote healthier workplaces.

A marathon a week stops you from getting sick

So how far is 10,000 steps per day? Depending on your stride, it equates to about 7km of walking per day. So in order to stay healthy, we need to be walking a marathon a week and that is in addition to exercise! Extrapolate that to a year to think about how much movement you are missing out on if you only notch up 50% of that. With most people spending 8-10 hours at a desk, is there any wonder there is a growing obesity epidemic?

Is the science in our out on 10,000 steps?

There is a lot of discussion and debate on whether 10,000 steps a day is a worthwhile target. Distinguished health advocate Dr Michael Mosley suggested in a BBC article ‘Forget walking 10,000 steps a day’ that short burst of 10 minutes of exercise three times per day was more effective than aiming to notch up the much larger activity level of 10,000 steps. An article in the Guardian last year quotes a host of professors and experts suggesting it is based on bad science. However, an article in the Huffington Post by Leigh Vanderloo, who has a PhD in health promotion, sums it up perfectly. Vanderloo writes, “Research has unanimously concluded that the more light activity you can do in a day, the better. Taking more steps means you’re spending less time sitting.” More recently, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled ‘Do we really need to take 10,000 steps a day?’ stated that, “Most studies prove that taking more steps is associated with better health outcomes.” So, the science does suggest the overall conclusion that the more steps we do, the better our health will be. In fact, a consistent increase of 1,000 steps per day can lead to notable improvements to health and the decline of various lifestyle diseases.

What can you do at work?

You have heard them before, but here is a reminder of a few ways to get more activity into your working day:

  • Walk to work. As a minimum, aim for a couple of days per week that you do walk to work or get off the bus one stop further away or park further away.
  • Get up from your desk and move around for one minute every 60-90 minutes
  • Go to see colleagues rather than e-mail them across the office
  • Get up and stretch regularly
  • Go for a walk at lunchtime
  • Use a standing desk for part of your day
  • Incorporate activity into meetings

Move more

So the science is in and major health advocates agree that 10,000 steps is a good goal to aim for. However the most important message is to ‘move more’. Being active is equally, if not more important that exercise alone.  You need to take steps – get it – to move more. The more you move, the better your health and physique will be. Movement energises and sitting for long periods causes aches and pains and promotes fatigue. So make a conscious effort to get up, move more and stretch throughout your day and you will look, feel and perform at your best.


Timo Topp is a fitness and wellness coach with 25 years international experience. It is his mission to help busy people live a better quality of life through fitness and wellbeing. In a world of conflicting, confused advice and complex fitness programs that can be too hard to follow, Timo offers down to earth ‘workable’ advice that you can incorporate into your busy day and it is proven to ‘work’ – to help you look, feel and perform at your best. He is a published author and speaker on workplace wellness and loves to share content, so please get in touch here: Website | Facebook | LinkedIn

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash

POSTED BY: Anthea England

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