By Cassie White
Taking 10,000 steps every day has been one of the biggest public health messages this decade.
Clocking the Big 10 is said to be the key to reducing our risk of serious illnesses associated with inactivity, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
That message has been heard loud and clear: everyone from kids to corporate high-flyers has a fitness device strapped to their wrist, quantifying every step.
Here’s what you might not know: the 10,000 steps rule didn’t originate from much scientific evidence.
In fact, “10,000 steps” is the translation of a Japanese word, “manpo-kei”, which was the name of a pedometer.
In the 1960s, a researcher in Japan discovered that most people took less than 4,000 steps per day. He found that increasing those steps to 10,000 could improve overall health.
It was a nice, round number; it gained momentum and before long 10,000 steps became a worldwide phenomenon.
The issue is that 10,000 steps is often mistaken as a magic number — the key to staving off diseased caused by inactivity — when, in actual fact, it’s a basic guideline.
Since the 1960s, studies have primarily found that taking 10,000 steps a day is definitely better for your health than doing nothing at all. Big surprise.
But, is it enough?
Probably not, according to a new study in the International Journal of Obesity, which tracked Scotland’s postal workers. Researchers compared the health of postal workers who delivered mail on foot with those who sat at a desk.
They found that 15,000 steps appeared to be the actual magic number, since those posties had normal waistlines and no increased risk of diseases associated with being sedentary.
The researchers also noted that for every hour spent sitting down past five hours, workers had a 0.2 per cent increased risk of heart disease.
Sedentary to superhuman
If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, where you commute to work, sit at a desk all day, then zonk out on the couch at night, chances are you’ve probably been struggling to reach 10,000 steps.
So what does this new development mean for you?
It means two things:
1). You’re not alone — less than one in five Australians are reaching anywhere near 10,000.
2). You’re not moving nearly enough to be considered healthy or reduce your risk of disease.
And because most of us can’t make it to 10,000 steps, that will remain our goal, explains Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, from The University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
“We have to be realistic about how difficult it is for people to change their lifestyles,” he says.