It’s summer in Whatcom County. That generally means pleasant weather, usually not too hot or rainy, and longer daylight hours. Add in the coronavirus pandemic and many people are getting their daily exercise outdoors, often with walking or running. Using a fitness tracker to monitor activity levels is popular, often with a goal of taking 10,000 steps each day.
For some people, that goal of 10,000 steps is motivating and helps them be physically active. But for others, especially if they aren’t reaching their goal, it’s discouraging, reduces motivation and may lead to less physical activity.
Have you wondered how scientists came to recommend 10,000 steps per day as a fitness goal? Well, the truth is, the idea has little to no scientific research behind it. In 2019, Harvard Medical School researcher I-Min Lee looked into the history of the 10,000 steps a day goal and discovered that it most likely originated in the ’60s when a Japanese company marketed a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which in Japanese means “10,000 steps meter.” Most likely the name was chosen because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks a little like a man walking. Ads for the step counter said, “Let’s all walk 10,000 steps a day.” This idea has persisted through the decades.
While there’s nothing wrong with that goal, it may not be necessary for achieving health and longevity. Multiple researchers have concluded that while 10,000 steps is a good goal, there is nothing magical about that number and even 7,000-8,000 steps can improve health and longevity. (The average American adult takes about 3,000-5,000 steps a day.) Or, looking at exercise goals another way, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week (which correlates to 7,000-8,000 steps a day).
The human body was designed for movement and physical activity is important for good health. Physical activity like walking can help control blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It can also stimulate creative thinking and is associated with living longer and healthier.
So if using a step counter or fitness tracker motivates you to exercise and you reach 10,000 steps a day (or more), that’s great. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t reach that number. Make it your goal to be physically active above the level of your normal daily activity and enjoy the beauty of summer in the Pacific Northwest.
Beth Sanborn is a licensed nutritionist who lives in Birch Bay and holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition.