Monday, May 5, 2014

10,000 steps a day? Maybe not and attitudes of perfection

When I first got a pedometer and later the BodyMedia Fit Core, everything said, "Try to take 10,000 steps for better health."  I learned very quickly that it is actually quite difficult to take 10,000 steps in a day without doing serious exercise. You will not get there by doing housework all day, or most yard work (of limited duration) as you do a lot of standing around while doing those things. You have to take a walk in the day, and a fairly long one at that.

But, I would try to shoot for 10,000 steps and I would get there on days that I did aerobics (like step or Zumba), but oftentimes wouldn't get there on days I did weight training - despite walking around the lake or to my son's school for school pick-up.

This time, I just randomly picked 8,000 steps as a more reasonable goal as I remembered oftentimes that is where I would get to with actually trying to take more steps. It was attainable with moderate effort. I didn't want to feel like I was failing every day. LOSER - you didn't meet your goal again! Better to see, "Oh look, I made it and got even more in! Great!"

Well, after my LOOOOOOONG walk on Friday, I looked up walking recommendations just for the heck of it. I knew my 16,000 steps was way a lot, but what I found is that 10,000 steps is no longer the "go to" number. Guess what is? 8,000. Several sites talk about it. Here's an article from Live Science.

Of course, it's not that simple either. How fast you take those steps, your weight, age, lifestyle (sedentary/active) all play a part in that. Here is a really long article, How many steps/day are enough? for adults, that looks at several studies on step counts. Worth a read though. 

In essence, it's saying, more is better, but intensity is as important as the count. So, at least 30 minutes of those steps should be faster, deliberate walking (to get the heart rate up). 10,000 is a nice number and a good number, but it shouldn't be set in stone. Just try to do more for better health.  Here's the abstract:


Physical activity guidelines from around the world are typically expressed in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity parameters. Objective monitoring using pedometers and accelerometers offers a new opportunity to measure and communicate physical activity in terms of steps/day. Various step-based versions or translations of physical activity guidelines are emerging, reflecting public interest in such guidance. However, there appears to be a wide discrepancy in the exact values that are being communicated. It makes sense that step-based recommendations should be harmonious with existing evidence-based public health guidelines that recognize that "some physical activity is better than none" while maintaining a focus on time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Thus, the purpose of this review was to update our existing knowledge of "How many steps/day are enough?", and to inform step-based recommendations consistent with current physical activity guidelines. Normative data indicate that healthy adults typically take between 4,000 and 18,000 steps/day, and that 10,000 steps/day is reasonable for this population, although there are notable "low active populations." Interventions demonstrate incremental increases on the order of 2,000-2,500 steps/day. The results of seven different controlled studies demonstrate that there is a strong relationship between cadence and intensity. Further, despite some inter-individual variation, 100 steps/minute represents a reasonable floor value indicative of moderate intensity walking. Multiplying this cadence by 30 minutes (i.e., typical of a daily recommendation) produces a minimum of 3,000 steps that is best used as a heuristic (i.e., guiding) value, but these steps must be taken over and above habitual activity levels to be a true expression of free-living steps/day that also includes recommendations for minimal amounts of time in MVPA. Computed steps/day translations of time in MVPA that also include estimates of habitual activity levels equate to 7,100 to 11,000 steps/day. A direct estimate of minimal amounts of MVPA accumulated in the course of objectively monitored free-living behaviour is 7,000-8,000 steps/day. A scale that spans a wide range of incremental increases in steps/day and is congruent with public health recognition that "some physical activity is better than none," yet still incorporates step-based translations of recommended amounts of time in MVPA may be useful in research and practice. The full range of users (researchers to practitioners to the general public) of objective monitoring instruments that provide step-based outputs require good reference data and evidence-based recommendations to be able to design effective health messages congruent with public health physical activity guidelines, guide behaviour change, and ultimately measure, track, and interpret steps/day.

The CDC (Center of Disease Control) suggests this:

General Guidance for Pedometer Use

A digital step counter pedometer is a reasonably accurate and reliable device that can be used for most physical activities for which there is a stepping-motion. These activities include not only walking, but exercise that involves movement of the trunk, hip and legs, such as stair-climbing, cross-country skiing, dancing, house-hold chores, running, and ball sports. There are dozens of models of pedometers. A step-only pedometer is one of the simplest, and requires no calibration or adjustment, other than daily resetting to 0.
Basic instructions for beginners:
  1. Clip the step-counter onto your belt or waistband midway between your side and the crease-line of your shorts/pants. Some authorities suggest placing the step-counter at the side, either in the 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock position. If your pedometer has a strap or leash, attach the leash to your belt to prevent losing the pedometer if it accidentally becomes unclipped.
  2. Reset the step counter to 0 steps before starting your exercise and at the end of each day or exercise session.
  3. For the first 3-4 days, assess your total number of steps and movements during a routine day at home and work. Most relatively sedentary individuals take 1,000 - 3,000 steps per day. After establishing a baseline number of steps per day, some individuals elect to count steps per week, rather than steps per day. Both approaches are acceptable.
  4. With a goal of increasing your steps every day or week, begin an organized and systematic walking program. Your level of progress will depend upon your starting fitness level and health. Most apparently healthy, but sedentary adults can safely add 2,000 steps per day, or approximately one additional mile, the first week. Continue to add steps regularly. At least 10,000 steps per day is a good goal for currently sedentary people.
  5. A healthful level of activity is at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-level physical activity. To achieve a moderate level of activity, increase your walking pace to 6,000-8,000 steps, or 3-4 miles, per hour for at least 30 minutes each day.
* Remember that the total on a step-counter reflects all daily physical activity that involves a stepping-motion or other movement of the trunk, hip and legs. A step-counter can be used as an activity meter, as a testing tool for evaluating walking endurance and distance, and as an educational or motivational tool to encourage physical activity.
 With all that said, I think, and it makes sense, that what's most important is not the exact count, but improving on what you already do, especially if you a sedentary.

A sedentary person takes about 2000-2500 steps a day - slow steps, a few at a time. Those aren't exercise minutes, but lowest level of movement needed to survive as a mobile person. That's getting up to go to the bathroom, going down the hall to get dressed. Walking to the kitchen. Walking to the car to go to the store, etc.

Each mile is about 2000 steps. So, walking 2000 steps a day is only walking a mile a day.  And yes, on days I am a lazy bum, I do walk only 2000-2500 steps a day. That's a lot of sitting.

So, if that is your normal lifestyle, jumping from 2000 to 10,000 is going to feel impossible and discouraging. The goal should be to improve, so start small and slow. Here's what the says:

A reasonable goal for most people is to increase average daily steps each week by 500 per day until you can easily average 10,000 per day. Example: If you currently average 3000 steps each day, your goal for week one is 3500 each day. Your week 2 goal is 4000 each day. Continue to increase each week and you should be averaging 10,000 steps by the end of 14 weeks.
It makes a lot of sense.

On top of that, if 10,000 seems impossible to fit into your lifestyle, then shoot for as many as seems reasonable. 5000 is still better than 2000. It shouldn't be an all or nothing mentality with walking just like it shouldn't be with weight, diet or anything.  Progress and improvement still improves your health.

With that said, for now, I'm aiming for 8000 steps a day. It's doable with walking to and fro my son's school and a walk around the lake. I will shoot for 2-3 longer walks a week (for now). I will go for more as my energy increases and my fitness increases - like my shins handling the newish work (my shins are my sensitive spot). That is far better than the 2000-3000 I was getting while sitting away my life all winter.

It's how we should look at all of fitness, diet, and weight goals. Perfection is great, but it's not necessary to improve quality of life. If you used to weigh 300 pounds, never walked (2000 steps minimum) and ate 12 donuts every day, your health will be a LOT better if you weighed 225 pounds, walked 3 miles a day (6000 steps) and ate one donut a day and nutritious foods the rest of the day. Sure, you're still overweight. You're still not walking much and you still eat donuts, but tell that to your body that it 'doesn't matter' because it's not perfect. Your body would disagree. Baby steps still get you there and getting all the way to the finish line isn't the only sign of success.


  1. Great post - no one should ever feel like a failure if they are working to get extra steps/movement/exercise in in the day but don't meet the 10,000 magic number! Any purposeful movement, any moves towards eating better, etc... those are all progress, and progress should be the goal since perfection doesn't exist!

    1. Thanks Jeanette! And now to get off my duff and start walking (mowing).

  2. Great post. A few months ago when I was struggling to hit 4000 steps a day but with my goal at 10,000 on my Fitbit I did some research on this too (I think we found the same articles). After that, I think I set my step goal to 4500 steps a day. I've worked up to 7000 steps a day -- average. I have a one story house and am usually home most days so if I don't make a real effort to walk outside or hop on the treadmill it is hard to get over 3000 steps.

    One thing I did was to build a treadmill desk for my treadmill. I set my notebook computer up on it and I do some walking that isn't all that fast but does get some additional steps in while I'm using my computer (this is in addition to fitness walking)

  3. Nice article, I've posted in in our 10000 Withings Walking group on Facebook. Well said: