Are 100,000 Steps a Day Enough or Too Many?

As a daily exercise goal, steps are easily understood and measured using a variety of devices including wearables and smartphone apps. These devices are reasonably accurate and can be adjusted for stride length. Tracking steps is something people choose more often than counting minutes of exercise, though in many ways they are equivalent. Pace is seldom considered either as a goal or or method to calculate energy expenditure. Though contentious, some people argue that the benefits of walking a set distance or number of steps is the same or similar, irrespective or how fast you completed the goal. Obviously walking faster or jogging has many cardiovascular benefits apart from just doing the work.

It appears that the original idea that 10,000 steps is the optimal, was somewhat arbitrary. The story goes it arose because of 1960's marketing campaign for a new Japanese pedometer, named "Manpo-Kei "( the work 'Manpo' means 10,000 steps in Japanese).

A new met-analysis study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, aimed to resolve the issue and to identify the optimum number of steps based on scientific analysis. The study looked at a total of 30,172 individuals whose steps during regular exercise were related to and their all-cause mortality outcomes over about nine years. The analysis included data from 10 separate studies. After adjusting for a set of confounding factors like sex, age, health, and socioeconomic status, the study found that taking regular exercise with “some steps are better than taking no steps”. However, they found that the “ideal” number of steps was 7500 steps a day. not 10,000 steps. This corresponded with the point on the graph where the mortality risk flattened out. So, while the risk continues to go down after 7500 steps to about 11,000 steps there is a marginal extra benefit of about 2 per cent average risk reduction for every 1000 steps/day walked.

When you walk the equivalent of between zero and 7500 steps a day, the reduction in the mortality risk is initially quite marked. There is an average 8.5 per cent risk reduction for every extra 1000 steps/day you walk each day. After 7500 steps, the curve flattens markedly so that there is only a marginal extra benefit. Additionally, the authors of the study highlighted that the benefits of regular walking apply regardless of how and when the steps are accumulated throughout the day. Working in the garden, walking to and from work or the shops, or walking in one or multiple sessions appeared to make little difference. However, other research studies suggests there are extra health benefits when the pace is pushed a little.

Walking 7500 steps a day, generally takes about an hour or less to complete. It represents a distance of about 5-6 kilometres (3-4 miles). Research shows that walking 7500 steps or more reduces the chance of dying from any cause in the next two years by about 40 per cent.

Walking is not a low cost activity as can be done without the need for expensive workout gear. It has multiple other health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease, and type 2 diabetes and exercise is well known to reduce the incidence of depression.