The daily 10,000-step target is popular but does it mean anything?

by | Dementia, What We're Talking About

The origins of 10,000 steps as a target for daily walking go back to long before wearables, to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.  In fact, it was core to the advertising campaign for the very first wearable, a pedometer called manpo-kei which means 10,000 metres. The ‘10,000 steps’ message was adopted by manufacturers of wearables as it was easy for people to memorise – and measurable.

It’s long been questioned though whether the 10,000-step target makes a difference to people? Researches from the University of Sydney used UK Biobank data, which is the world’s largest source of wearables data for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. The researchers used a sample of 78,000 people who wore wrist accelerometers 24-hours a day for a week.

Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Population Health at Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre, wanted to see what daily steps numbers were associated with benefits for dementia prevention, risk of dementia, lower risk of premature death, as well as heart disease and cancer incidence and mortality.

It turned out that the marketing ploy of the 1960s has something going for it.

For dementia, 3,800 steps lowered the risk by 25% and 10,000 steps by 50%.

For mortality and cardiovascular disease, the study showed that for every 2,000 steps you get approximately a 10% decrease in risk. The optimal benefit turned out to be around 10,000 steps. Added intensity brought additional benefits over and above the number of steps. 

In summary, the research team found that aiming for 10,000 steps a day can lower your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia. In addition, upping the pace and workload of your steps through the day can also contribute to better health outcomes.