If you’re not doing it, you probably know someone who is. Over the past few decades, millions of people have bought into the idea that the key to better health is walking at least 10,000 steps per day. That’s a worthwhile goal, but is it valid? New medical research has revealed that, while there’s probably nothing wrong with that much walking, seniors can enjoy significant and measurable health benefits while walking much less.
Is 10,000 Steps Really the “Gold Standard” for Fitness?
This finding, which should be an encouragement to all of us to get moving, was revealed in a just-released study in JAMA (formerly the Journal of the American Medical Association). As a result of this new study, and because the 10,000-step goal has been widely accepted as health gospel for so long, many news outlets picked up the report. We found this story from The Atlantic to be helpful and interesting. Under the title, “What 10,000 Steps Will Really Get You,” staff writer Amanda Mull explains that the origin of the 10,000-steps-per-day goal was not scientific research but “a clever bit of marketing” that perpetuated a myth which has lasted for over five decades.
Mull writes that the adoption of 10,000 steps as a sort of “gold standard” for healthy living fits with a common American approach to good health. “In America, the conventional wisdom of how to live healthily is full of axioms that long ago shed their origins,” she says. “Drink eight glasses of water a day. Get eight hours of sleep. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Two thousand calories a day is normal.” She calls these “a cultural shorthand” that allows us to measure whether or not we’re “healthy.” According to The Atlantic, the widespread use of pedometers, smart phone apps and wearable fitness trackers has created “another benchmark” – “Take at least 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles of walking for most people. As with many other American fitness norms, where this particular number came from has always been a little hazy. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a default daily goal for some of the most popular activity trackers on the market.”
10,000 Steps: a Widely-Accepted Guideline That’s Not Really Accurate
In the words of the article, the new research study is creating questions about just how useful the 10,000-step standard actually is, and at the same time, it is casting doubt on some of our other commonly-held beliefs about how our daily activities affect our health. “While basic guidelines can be helpful when they’re accurate,” Mull writes, “human health is far too complicated to be reduced to a long chain of numerical imperatives. For some people, these rules can even do more harm than good.”
The Harvard-based study began when a professor of epidemiology named I-Min Lee started wondering about the origins of the 10,000-step rule. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’” Some Japanese researchers believe that “the name was chosen for the product because the character for ‘10,000’ looks sort of like a man walking.” As far as anyone can tell, no one has ever validated whether that number has any health merits. To remedy that situation and find out the truth, researchers tracked 16,700 women with an average age of 72 over a 4-year period, measuring their daily step totals and comparing those figures against mortality statistics. What they found should make us think twice about some of the “rules of thumb” we tend to believe.
If You Can’t Do 10,000 Steps, How About 4,400?
As it turns out, there is a correlation between walking and health, but at a far lower level than 10,000 steps. “‘The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,’ Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps—less than a mile of walking—was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.” This study provides more proof that even a little exercise goes a long way, which is great news for seniors who don’t have safe neighborhoods, or are fearful about walking because they feel unsteady on their feet. “Adding in a little extra physical activity is good for most people both physiologically and psychologically, regardless of goals or benchmarks,” says The Atlantic. Health advocates should stop discouraging people from exercising by setting the bar too high and using the same standard for everyone.
The First Step Should Involve a Solid Plan for Your Retirement
Walking is great exercise, for all the reasons cited above. But physical health is only part of the picture: what you really need for true “retirement health” is a solid and comprehensive retirement plan. Do you want to look forward to retirement with less anxiety and stress and more optimism and peace of mind? Do you long for a sense of purpose in retirement instead of just letting life happen as you age? Are you eager for a retirement plan that enhances your sense of security in a turbulent world? Then we encourage you to accept Rajiv Nagaich’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. A LifePlan is our name for a retirement plan that is uniquely complete and wide-ranging, blending all the critical elements of life as you age – finances, legal protection, medical coverage, housing choices, even family communicati0n – into one seamless retirement strategy. A LifePlan truly is the plan you need for the rest of your life.
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(originally reported at www.theatlantic.com)