We’ve all heard the mantra: aim for 10,000 steps a day for optimal health. But is this magic number truly necessary? A recent study of over 72,000 people suggests a more nuanced picture, and the good news is, it might be even more achievable for many of us.

For years, 10,000 steps has been the gold standard for daily activity. This number originated from a marketing campaign for a pedometer in the 1960s, not scientific research. However, a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine sheds light on the true relationship between daily steps, sedentary time, and health outcomes over of 72,000 people.

The study, titled “Do the associations of daily steps with mortality and incident cardiovascular disease differ by sedentary time levels? A device-based cohort study,” aimed to understand how much daily activity is truly beneficial, and if the amount of time spent sitting plays a role. Here’s what they found:

  • 9,000-10,000 steps: this daily step count cuts risk of death by more than a third and reduced cardiovascular disease risk by at least 20 percent for highly sedentary people (less than 2200 steps per day previously)
  • Every step counts: even smaller step count increases showed benefits. In fact, this same cohort, highly sedentary people, began experiencing a heart benefit starting as low as 4,300 steps per day, when their risk of heart disease fell by 10 percent. So, even if you’re not hitting 10,000, increasing your daily activity from a low baseline can have a significant impact on your health.
  • There’s a sweet spot for steps: The study suggests that taking between 9,000 and 10,500 steps daily is associated with the lowest risk of mortality, regardless of how much time people spent sitting each day. This is good news, but it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone needs to hit that exact number.
  • Sedentary time matters, but not as much as we might think: The study found that there wasn’t a major difference in the association between steps and health outcomes based on sedentary time. This means that even if you have a desk job and sit for long periods, incorporating more movement throughout the day can still be very beneficial.

So, what does this mean for you?

The most important takeaway is that getting more active is crucial for your health, but it doesn’t have to be a rigid pursuit of 10,000 steps. Here are some tips to translate this research into action:

  • Find an activity you enjoy: Walking is a fantastic way to increase your step count, but it’s not the only option. Explore activities like biking and swimming. Incorporate being with others for an added dose of positive health outcomes, research shows. Attend a fitness class such Zumba, Pilates, and kickboxing and get the added social benefits as well as the physical benefits.
  • Break up your sitting time: Even short bursts of activity can be beneficial. Set a timer to get up and move around every 30 minutes, do some stretches, or walk a lap around the office.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection: Start by gradually increasing your daily activity level. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember, consistency is key. Aim to incorporate more movement into your daily routine, and celebrate your progress along the way. Whether you reach 4,000 steps or 10,000, what matters most is finding ways to stay active and improve your overall well-being.

Additional Considerations:

  • This study focused on mortality and cardiovascular disease. While these are important health outcomes, there may be other benefits to exceeding 10,000 steps, such as improved mood or weight management.
  • The study participants wore activity trackers, which can be a helpful tool for monitoring your steps and overall activity levels. However, there are plenty of ways to stay active without relying on them.

Embrace movement, stay consistent, celebrate even the smallest of progress, and enjoy the journey to a healthier you!

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