10,000 Steps A Day? Try Frequent Moderate Activity Instead.

How many steps have you taken today?

Most of us have been confronted by that question at some point in our lives, and many of us use our step count as a metric to gauge how active we are. For years we’ve been told that getting at least 10,000 steps is crucial to maintaining our health, but how did that number get chosen and is it really accurate?

That’s what we — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — discussed with Heather Milton, an exercise physiologist at NYU Langone Health in New York, when she stopped by our studio to give us tips and tricks for exercising better.

Listen to the full episode by pressing play:

“We always hear about 10,000 steps, and I actually read that that number is based on this pedometer that was designed in Japan [in the 1960′s],” Michelson said. “The [Japanese character] for 10,000 looks like a person walking, so… it just sort of became known for that.”

Even though that specific figure wasn’t based on medical or scientific research, it has remained the benchmark for our daily step goal for decades.

“There has been more recent literature that looked at [10,000 steps] per day, and how that’s related to 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day,” Milton told us. “The idea is if you’re getting the right intensity of that [10,000-step] walk, then you’re getting the CDC and ACSM recommended amount of aerobic exercise per day, because it equates to about 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity.”

However, not all steps are created equal.

“When you’re counting steps, does that mean like I got up and walked to get water and came back? That’s probably not moderate intensity,” she said.

That’s why Milton emphasized that in order for us to get the most out of our walks, our pace should be brisk enough to keep us from being able to easily chat while we’re doing it, which she referred to as “the talk test.”

“If you and I were trying to have a conversation, would you only be able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to my questions? Or could we be chatting like this?” she asked. “There’s a threshold dose or intensity dose that then lends towards increasing your health, and if we’re looking at heart rate ranges, [that’s] about 60… 64 to 76 technically… percent of your max heart rate. That zone is your moderate intensity zone.”

Aside from intensity, different step counts can provide different results based on other factors, like age. A 2019 study involving 16,741 women who ranged in age from 62 to 101 found that “4,400 steps a day was associated with a 41% reduction in mortality compared with walking 2,700 steps a day, [and walking] around 7,500 steps was associated with a 65% reduction.” Another study showed progressively decreasing risk of mortality for people under 60 when they logged 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day.

Because there’s so much to consider when attempting to use step count to determine our fitness, Milton suggested we stop concentrating so specifically on our steps and instead focus on a different number: 30.

Not only is 30 the number of minutes of moderate activity we want to aim for each day, it’s also the maximum number of minutes we should allow ourselves to remain seated or sedentary at any given time during the day.

“Sedentary time is a whole other risk factor for health,” she noted.

Inactivity can contribute to countless medical issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, certain cancers and mental health issues, so the less sedentary we are, the better our health and well-being may be.

“The sweet spot for breaking up sedentary time [is moving] every 30 minutes,” Milton said. “If you’re walking, your steps are contributing to that [and that’s] helping your health from a different domain.”

That’s why she likes using steps as a “simple tool — an objective measure of if [my client] got some activity or didn’t that day.”

“So, for the general population, if you have a Fitbit or another device that’s counting your steps, you can see how low they are,” she said. “Then you can set goals for increasing it over time.”

If we see a meager end-of-the-day count, that could indicate we were sitting or sedentary for much of the day.

“10,000 [steps] may not be what you want to set [your goal to],” Milton said. “It may just be to increase it by 200 [steps]. Then you can increase slowly over time, so you’re getting more active time. It may not be structured exercise, but it is physical activity. And that can help with your metabolism and your overall health.”

The Mayo Clinic notes that we can also break up sitting time by finding ways to walk while we work, like taking a walk with colleagues instead of sitting during a meeting, using a standing desk (or working while standing at a counter) for parts of the day, or standing for a bit while we do an activity we’d normally do sitting, like talking on the phone or watching TV.

During our conversation with Milton we also learned why we might be warming up all wrong (and how to do it better), the truth about spot training, and much more. So listen to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to subscribe to “Am I Doing It Wrong?” so you don’t miss a single episode, including our investigations of the ins and outs of tipping, how to apologize or vanquish your credit card debt, how to find love online or overcome anxiety, tips for online shopping, taking care of your teeth and pooping like a pro, secrets to booking and staying in a hotel, how to deal with an angry person, cooking tips from celebrity chef Jet Tila, shocking laundry secrets, the tips and tricks for cleaner dishes and more.

Need some help with something you’ve been doing wrong? Email us at [email protected], and we might investigate the topic in an upcoming episode.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *