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Does walking 10,000 steps a day really make you healthier?

Posted June 21

It’s no secret that wearable smart devices have taken over our lives the last few years. Fitbits and other wrist-based devices have taken traditional pedometers and expanded them to offer full-body health trackers. (Deseret Photo)

It’s no secret that wearable smart devices have consumed our lives over the past few years.

Fitbits and other wrist-based devices have taken traditional pedometers and expanded them to become full-body health trackers.

It seems everybody these days worries about getting in their 10,000 daily steps and uses their Fitbits to help them get there.

But where did the 10,000 step recommendation come from? And does it actually do anything for your health?

We did a little research and experimenting of its own to answer these very questions.

Background

The origin of the 10,000 steps figure comes from a marketing ploy in the 1960s by advertisers in Japan who were hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the Olympics and sell more pedometers, according to the BBC. That number has been backed up by several studies documenting its health benefits.

Getting in 10,000 steps equates to approximately 5 miles of walking and at least 150 minutes of exercise daily, (which meets one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly exercise recommendations.)

Although most use 10,000 steps as the average benchmark, a new study out of The International Journal of Obesity in England earlier this year found that the 10,000 number may be too low and should actually be somewhere closer to 15,000. (Note: A New York Times analysis of the study indicated that the increased benchmark provides a “limited snapshot” and more research is needed.)

To conduct a somewhat controlled experiment, two members of KSL.com decided to use both benchmarks for their general well-being test. Over a 30-day period in May, Josh Furlong, assistant news director, attempted to walk 10,000 steps each day, while Carter Williams, head writer, attempted to walk 15,000 steps each day.

They had no illusions that our 30-day challenge is a robust confirmation of well-documented studies — there was no attempt to measure their actual fitness or health levels prior to or during the study — but wanted to see if they could reach their daily goals and whether or not they felt better overall when they finished.

Both used a Fitbit Charge 2 to measure their steps. They exported the data for March and April to get an idea of their previous averages. As the visualization shows, there was a clear uptick in steps in May as they attempted the challenge.

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Carter

The decision to walk or run 15,000 steps every day for 30 days was ambitious, but certainly doable. As someone who often walks more than the average person each day, I felt 10,000 steps wasn’t much of a goal. That said, from day one it was clear that 15,000 would require management when balancing a sometimes hectic and long work schedule while still getting the suggested amount of sleep.

Breaking down the workload into sections turned to be best way to handle it. As grand of an idea it seemed, I chuckled remembering an athlete I covered in college that ran 30 miles a day broken into 10-mile segments throughout a day. Fifteen thousand steps seemed so childish compared to that near-mythical standard.

The best way to reach 15,000 steps in various workloads included walking seven blocks to and from the nearest TRAX stations, which knocked out roughly 2,000 steps each way. It took a little more than 50 blocks of street walking to reach 15,000, which went into daily planning. All the great hiking spots throughout the state make that goal much easier to reach, especially on weekends.

Around the third week, I stumbled upon a podcast episode in which actor Terry Crews discussed with the host how it takes about 21 days to form a habit, which was exactly how it felt doing this challenge. The first few days were spent cognitively aware that I had to move 15,000 steps and there was an active effort to achieve that. In the end, it became almost effortless and subconscious.

It was difficult to tell scientifically if 15,000 steps was healthier than 10,000; however, I could feel a difference in energy and alertness from April to May. Though the first week could be trying at times due to leg soreness, it became easier and easier as time wore on. I felt healthier and noticed a quicker stride in my walking and running ability.

Getting to 10,000 steps each day is not an easy task, particularly because most of my day is spent working at a desk. Prior to the challenge, I’d eclipse the 10,000 mark maybe once or twice a week, with one of those days being a Saturday when I’m more active and working in the yard. I averaged approximately 7,000-8,000 steps a day.

Josh

Originally, when I signed up to do the 10,000-step challenge, I did it thinking about the weight loss benefits. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a cure-all for dieting, but a way to measure the amount of calories expended in a day to give an idea of how much I could eat. In 2015, I used a Fitbit to help me with a previous weight-loss challenge and lost 30 pounds in approximately 3 months.

The challenge started off well and was relatively easy. To help reach my steps each day, I committed to taking the stairs instead of the elevator and would only pick lunch spots within walking distance. Being in downtown Salt Lake City, this wasn’t too complicated but was still a challenge on colder, wet days.

However, by the end of the month, I was tired of walking around everywhere and wanted to occasionally drive to get some lunch. I know, First World problems. But I can say that I generally felt better walking around everywhere. I felt like I had more energy and was more motivated to move throughout the day. Sitting for more than 30 minutes at one time became really difficult to accomplish without having the desire to get up and walk around.

The biggest struggle for me was getting 10,000 steps on Sundays. Almost every Sunday I would have to walk around my house to finish my last 2,000 steps or so. I failed to reach 10,000 steps on one day during the challenge, and that fell on a Sunday.

All in all, it was a good challenge to get me moving more. I don’t actively pursue the 10,000 steps each day anymore, but I’ve found myself approaching that number easier and without thought. I still take the stairs most of the time and walk to most lunches. Getting 10,000 steps is still not easy, but it’s become more ingrained in my thoughts following the 30-day challenge.

Carter

The decision to walk or run 15,000 steps every day for 30 days was ambitious but certainly doable. As someone who often walks more than the average person each day, I felt 10,000 steps wasn’t much of a goal. That said, from day one it was clear that 15,000 would require management when balancing a sometimes hectic and long work schedule while still getting the suggested amount of sleep.

Breaking down the workload into sections turned to be best way to handle it. As grand of an idea it seemed, I chuckled remembering an athlete I covered in college that ran 30 miles a day broken into 10-mile segments throughout a day. 15,000 steps seemed so childish compared to that near-mythical standard.

The best way to reach 15,000 steps in various workloads included walking seven blocks to and from the nearest TRAX stations, which knocked out roughly 2,000 steps each way. It took a little more than 50 blocks of street walking to reach 15,000, which went into daily planning. All the great hiking spots throughout the state make that goal much easier to reach — especially on weekends.

Around the third week, I stumbled upon a podcast episode in which actor Terry Crews discussed with the host how it takes about 21 days to form a habit, which was exactly how it felt doing this challenge. The first few days were spent cognitively aware that I had to move 15,000 steps and there was an active effort to achieve that. In the end, it became almost effortless and subconscious.

It was difficult to tell scientifically if 15,000 steps was healthier than 10,000; however, I could feel a difference in energy and alertness from April to May. Though the first week could be trying at times due to leg soreness, it became easier and easier as time wore on. I felt healthier and noticed a quicker stride in my walking and running ability.

Josh

Getting to 10,000 steps each day is not an easy task, particularly because most of my day is spent working at a desk. Prior to the challenge, I’d eclipse the 10,000 mark maybe once or twice a week, with one of those days being a Saturday when I’m more active and working in the yard. I averaged approximately 7,000-8,000 steps a day.

Originally, when I signed up to do the 10,000-step challenge, I did it thinking about the weight loss benefits. Obviously it wouldn’t be a cure-all for dieting, but a way to measure the amount of calories expended in a day to give an idea of how much I could eat. In 2015, I used a Fitbit to help me with a previous weight loss challenge and lost 30 pounds in approximately 3 months.

The challenge started off well and was relatively easy. To help reach my steps each day, I committed to taking the stairs instead of the elevator and would only pick lunch spots within walking distance. Being in downtown Salt Lake City, this wasn’t too complicated, but was still a challenge on colder, wet days.

However, by the end of the month, I was tired of walking around everywhere and wanted to occasionally drive to get some lunch. I know, first world problems. But I can say that I generally felt better walking around everywhere. I felt like I had more energy and was more motivated to move throughout the day. Sitting for more than 30 minutes at one time became really difficult to accomplish without having the desire to get up and walk around.

The biggest struggle for me was getting 10,000 steps on Sundays. Almost every Sunday I would have to walk around my house to finish my last 2,000 steps or so. I did fail to reach 10,000 steps on one day during the challenge, and that fell on a Sunday.

All in all, it was a good challenge to get me moving more — and I lost 5 pounds. I don’t actively pursue the 10,000 steps each day anymore, but I’ve found myself approaching that number easier and without thought. I still take the stairs most of the time and walk to most lunches. Getting 10,000 steps is still not easy, but it’s become more ingrained in my thoughts following the 30-day challenge.

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