The Flawed Science Behind Walking 10,000 Steps Every Day

We look at how the routine of walking 10,000 steps a day has any scientific basis and how beneficial it is for you.

Published
Flex 'em
5 min read
We look at how the routine of walking 10,000 steps a day has any scientific basis and how beneficial it is for you.
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The fitness world is replete with trends that make an appearance, keep everyone obsessed for a while, dominate our Google searches and then eventually disappear into oblivion. Fortunately or not, the idea of walking 10,000 steps a day has withstood this cycle, refusing to uproot its firmly planted feet. Now that pedometers and smartwatches have appeared on almost every wrist, we look into whether or not this particular trend has any scientific basis and how beneficial it is for you.

The Flawed Science Behind Walking 10,000 Steps Every Day

  1. 1. We Have 1960s Japan to Thank For This

    After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei.
    After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Doctors across the board agree that there is no medical science behind the origin of this number. Dr Rakesh Pandit, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, Dwarka affirms this, calling it “arbitrary and not rooted in medical science”.

    Preeti Rao, who is an Integrated Health Expert, and Health and Wellness Coach, Max Super Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park, mentions that this number has links in 1960s Japan. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei, according to this report. This roughly translates to ‘10,000-step meter’, the same report points out.

    The very successful Japanese marketing campaign ensured that the 10,000-number was prepared and ready to be served by future pedometers when they entered the realm of digital health devices.

    However, in isolation, there’s nothing special about walking this particular number of steps. So, how did it come about?

    Expand
  2. 2. It’s All in the Numbers

    Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles.
    Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles. Depending on your pace and weight, you can burn around 500 calories by walking this distance. Rao further adds that every 3,500 calories burned means about 0.45 kg of weight loss. If we add up the numbers, this would mean about 2-3 kg of weight loss every month, which is a healthy amount to lose.

    However Dr Pandit points out that walking 10,000 steps daily is not recommended simply for weight loss.

    We recommend it to diabetics too, the goal is not just weight loss, but also to target lifestyle diseases.
    Dr Rakesh Pandit
    Expand
  3. 3. But Are Specifically 10,000 Steps Suitable For All?

     Start slow and increase the pace and intensity gradually.
    Start slow and increase the pace and intensity gradually.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Again, both health experts emphasise that it cannot be a blanket number for everyone. They instead recommend starting slow and increasing the pace and intensity gradually.

    Smart watches, pedometers and this goal of 10,000 steps definitely help with their reminders and alarms to get people moving, and motivate them to exercise. However, it’s also important to start slow. You can start with 3,000 steps and increase them by 10 percent every week.
    Dr Rakesh Pandit

    An inactive person walks about 3,000 steps or less daily. You can work on your individual goals accordingly. When it comes to pace, the ideal one is of 100 steps per minute, according to this study.

    According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the recommended levels of exercise is 150 minutes per week. This can be broken down into either five 30 minute workouts or fewer, longer workouts, depending on what suits you best. Thus, if you’re at least walking every day for half an hour at the pace of 100 steps per minute, you should be able to maintain a basic level of fitness.

    However, once again, the idea is to listen to your own body. Fitness advice does not come in one-size-fits-all moulds.

    While walking 10,000 steps a day is easy to calculate for an average person, it’s not ideal for everyone. Everything has to be highly customised. For instance, the goal will not have the same effects on someone who has been working out for many years and someone with a sedentary lifestyle.
    Preeti Rao

    Both experts further agree that getting fit needs to have an integrated approach. Walking a fixed number of steps every day has to be accompanied by clean eating and a generally healthy lifestyle.

    What’s the point of burning 500 calories if you’re following it up with eating a burger? 10,000 steps is only a number to get you started, a rough estimate of sorts. Make sure to watch your diet too.
    Dr Rakesh Pandit
    Expand
  4. 4. The Pitfalls of Confining Your Exercise to 10,000 Steps, Especially in India

    India has adverse weather conditions.
    India has adverse weather conditions.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    Studies cannot emphasise enough that these 10,000 steps are meant to only supplement other physical activity that is part of your routine. Rao also points out some limitations of confining your daily activity to simply 10,000 steps.

    It’s important to exercise effectively, and not necessarily a lot. Walking 10,000 steps only looks at the aerobic capacity of the body, the cardiovascular health. However, it does not affect flexibility, strength or muscle building. It does not cover all components of exercise. 
    Preeti Rao

    It’s also important to keep in mind where you are located, says Rao.

    India is not a walk-friendly nation, unlike European countries where you can walk a lot. India has adverse weather conditions, safety on roads is a concern, plus walking on concrete is not the same as walking on, for instance, red sand. While the latter provides cushioning for the feet, the former affects the knees, ankles and spine.
    Preeti Rao

    When you walk, the reverse impact on the body is 7-10 times more. It’s even more harmful while running, says Rao. This is why, she emphasises, to not jump into extreme activities right at the start, and to work with an expert.

    Expand
  5. 5. Who Needs to Stay Away From this Blanket Advice?

     People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart need to start very slow.
    People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart need to start very slow.
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    When you are approaching a goal of 10,000 steps every day, it’s important to keep several factors in mind. From how intense the exercise is for your body to your own individual fitness levels.

    Walking 10,000 steps is not advisable for the elderly, those over 60 years of age. It’s a very extreme form of exercise for them and is not at all recommended. Similarly, it’s not recommended for someone who has had a heart attack, an injury or chronic pain that might get aggravated by it.
    Preeti Rao

    Dr Pandit lists down parameters that are important in this context. People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), breathlessness due to various reasons need to start very slow, as slow as 100 steps a day. You also need to keep in mind your BMI, goals and current weight before starting not just this, but any regime for that matter.

    So, to walk or not to walk 10,000 steps a day? Well, listen to the needs of your body, push yourself just enough to get stronger and not incur any injuries. And lastly, remember, fitness is a lifestyle and there’s no single magic number that is going to get you there.

    (Make sure you don't miss fresh news updates from us. Click here to stay updated)

    Expand

We Have 1960s Japan to Thank For This

After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei.
After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Doctors across the board agree that there is no medical science behind the origin of this number. Dr Rakesh Pandit, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, Dwarka affirms this, calling it “arbitrary and not rooted in medical science”.

Preeti Rao, who is an Integrated Health Expert, and Health and Wellness Coach, Max Super Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park, mentions that this number has links in 1960s Japan. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company introduced the world’s first wearable step-counter called manpo-kei, according to this report. This roughly translates to ‘10,000-step meter’, the same report points out.

The very successful Japanese marketing campaign ensured that the 10,000-number was prepared and ready to be served by future pedometers when they entered the realm of digital health devices.

However, in isolation, there’s nothing special about walking this particular number of steps. So, how did it come about?

It’s All in the Numbers

Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles.
Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Both Dr Pandit and Rao agree that 10,000 steps roughly adds up to 8 kms or 5 miles. Depending on your pace and weight, you can burn around 500 calories by walking this distance. Rao further adds that every 3,500 calories burned means about 0.45 kg of weight loss. If we add up the numbers, this would mean about 2-3 kg of weight loss every month, which is a healthy amount to lose.

However Dr Pandit points out that walking 10,000 steps daily is not recommended simply for weight loss.

We recommend it to diabetics too, the goal is not just weight loss, but also to target lifestyle diseases.
Dr Rakesh Pandit

But Are Specifically 10,000 Steps Suitable For All?

 Start slow and increase the pace and intensity gradually.
Start slow and increase the pace and intensity gradually.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Again, both health experts emphasise that it cannot be a blanket number for everyone. They instead recommend starting slow and increasing the pace and intensity gradually.

Smart watches, pedometers and this goal of 10,000 steps definitely help with their reminders and alarms to get people moving, and motivate them to exercise. However, it’s also important to start slow. You can start with 3,000 steps and increase them by 10 percent every week.
Dr Rakesh Pandit

An inactive person walks about 3,000 steps or less daily. You can work on your individual goals accordingly. When it comes to pace, the ideal one is of 100 steps per minute, according to this study.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the recommended levels of exercise is 150 minutes per week. This can be broken down into either five 30 minute workouts or fewer, longer workouts, depending on what suits you best. Thus, if you’re at least walking every day for half an hour at the pace of 100 steps per minute, you should be able to maintain a basic level of fitness.

However, once again, the idea is to listen to your own body. Fitness advice does not come in one-size-fits-all moulds.

While walking 10,000 steps a day is easy to calculate for an average person, it’s not ideal for everyone. Everything has to be highly customised. For instance, the goal will not have the same effects on someone who has been working out for many years and someone with a sedentary lifestyle.
Preeti Rao

Both experts further agree that getting fit needs to have an integrated approach. Walking a fixed number of steps every day has to be accompanied by clean eating and a generally healthy lifestyle.

What’s the point of burning 500 calories if you’re following it up with eating a burger? 10,000 steps is only a number to get you started, a rough estimate of sorts. Make sure to watch your diet too.
Dr Rakesh Pandit

The Pitfalls of Confining Your Exercise to 10,000 Steps, Especially in India

India has adverse weather conditions.
India has adverse weather conditions.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Studies cannot emphasise enough that these 10,000 steps are meant to only supplement other physical activity that is part of your routine. Rao also points out some limitations of confining your daily activity to simply 10,000 steps.

It’s important to exercise effectively, and not necessarily a lot. Walking 10,000 steps only looks at the aerobic capacity of the body, the cardiovascular health. However, it does not affect flexibility, strength or muscle building. It does not cover all components of exercise. 
Preeti Rao

It’s also important to keep in mind where you are located, says Rao.

India is not a walk-friendly nation, unlike European countries where you can walk a lot. India has adverse weather conditions, safety on roads is a concern, plus walking on concrete is not the same as walking on, for instance, red sand. While the latter provides cushioning for the feet, the former affects the knees, ankles and spine.
Preeti Rao

When you walk, the reverse impact on the body is 7-10 times more. It’s even more harmful while running, says Rao. This is why, she emphasises, to not jump into extreme activities right at the start, and to work with an expert.

Who Needs to Stay Away From this Blanket Advice?

 People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart need to start very slow.
People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart need to start very slow.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

When you are approaching a goal of 10,000 steps every day, it’s important to keep several factors in mind. From how intense the exercise is for your body to your own individual fitness levels.

Walking 10,000 steps is not advisable for the elderly, those over 60 years of age. It’s a very extreme form of exercise for them and is not at all recommended. Similarly, it’s not recommended for someone who has had a heart attack, an injury or chronic pain that might get aggravated by it.
Preeti Rao

Dr Pandit lists down parameters that are important in this context. People who are already living with medical conditions of the heart, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), breathlessness due to various reasons need to start very slow, as slow as 100 steps a day. You also need to keep in mind your BMI, goals and current weight before starting not just this, but any regime for that matter.

So, to walk or not to walk 10,000 steps a day? Well, listen to the needs of your body, push yourself just enough to get stronger and not incur any injuries. And lastly, remember, fitness is a lifestyle and there’s no single magic number that is going to get you there.

(Make sure you don't miss fresh news updates from us. Click here to stay updated)

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