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Have you ever heard the advice to get 10,000 steps per day for health? Yeah, me too. It’s often used by mainstream media as a health target, and is often used by apps and tracking wearables. In fact, for years it has been woven into health promotion…so even I’ve promoted it (gasp, I know).

But a few years ago I started hearing rumblings that it’s just not true, so I stopped (hello permission to evolve as I learn more!).

Where’d this steps quota come from anyway?!

Some say it’s a random carry-over from a early pedometer made in Japan who’s trade name “Manpo-kie” loosely translates to “10, 000 steps meter.” But much like BMI this “concept” spread like wildfire when mainstream media took this simple tangible measure and started incorporating it into programming and doctrine (oh hey Diet Culture).

What’s the truth?! How how many steps “should” you aim for?!

The answer to that question is loaded. So let’s dive in.

10,000 steps or 150 minutes?

You may have also heard about the general recommendation to achieve 150-minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise for good health. This one is based in the science. But how does that compare to steps? Well, it depends on your pace. It could be as few as 9,000 upwards to 20,000 or more per week (about 1290 – 2860 steps per day). Why the spread? Because “moderate to vigorous” is relative to the individual and their overall fitness level. So it’s just not that simple. But the bottom line? The research does not point to 10,000, so you can take a breath.

Here’s what the research points to in terms of actual numbers:
  • 4400 steps per day is associated with significantly lower mortality, compared to 2700 steps per day (read the research).
  • You can achieve health benefits with even moderate increases of 2000 steps per day (science is awesome).
  • More is NOT better. Health benefits appear to level out around 7500 steps per day (research for the win).

But here’s the take home I really hope you hear.

If you’ve ever tracked or worn a wearable tracking device and felt obsessed by hitting the number (I see you running in the spot in your living room at 10pm at night so you can hit 10,000 steps before you go to bed) this next section is for you.

There may be some significant costs to all this arbitrary counting and tracking.
  • Overuse injuries, especially if no consideration is given to a slow gradual increase to 10,000 that reflects where the individual is starting from. This is typical in Fitness Culture (zero to hero and no consideration given to the negative impact on the body and mind!).
  • Health costs from the allostatic load of stress (yup, stressing about moving more for your health is…costing you your health!).
  • Compensatory behaviours like restricting food and other eating disorder symptoms when targets aren’t met.

The solution?

In general, my advice is to put down the tracker. And if you really can’t put it down, instead of looking at your data daily and stressing if you haven’t hit your quota, instead look at your average over time (a week for example).

Because we all have variances in activity from day to day. Health is about how we’re doing as a whole. If you’re moving less than you’d like to be, look at how you can make moderate increases over the next couple of weeks. Remember that every minute of movement counts. Sneak in a 1-minute “walk” break every hour on the hour. Or go for a 5-minute block walk after lunch or dinner.

Move with JOY and and remember you are not a robot! Set goals that work for you and your body. Think about what the bigger picture objective is – Authentic Health. Explore what that means to you and how your vision can be reflected in health practices that work for you, your (awesome) body and your life!

Looking for more support to explore your unique definition of health and break free from the tracker (and other tools of Diet/ Fitness Culture)? Join me for the Super You Mindset. We’re diving ALL in on this and so many other topics: self-compassion, body kindness, Intuitive Eating and so much more!