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? Recent 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 study published last year in JAMA (formerly the Journal of the American Medical Association). Many news outlets picked up the news at the time – for example, this story from The Atlantic which we found 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 has perpetuated a myth that has now been around 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: An “Accepted Guideline” That’s Not Really Accurate
In the words of the article, the 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 special health merits. To 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 it against mortality statistics. What they found should make us think twice about some of the “rules of thumb” we tend to believe. As it turns out, there is a correlation between walking and health, but at a far lower level than 10,000 steps.
If You Can’t Do 10,000 Steps, How About 4,400?
The Atlantic article provides helpful data. “‘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 live in 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. Don’t discourage 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
That same one-size-fits-all approach to exercise also applies to planning for your future. When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. But people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate.
What about your medical coverage – will that be adequate? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age? The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Simply visit our website and discover a world of retirement planning resources. Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.theatlantic.com)