Could the 10,000 steps a day goal actually be complete nonsense?

10,000 has been the magic number of steps we’ve been told for decades we should be doing each day to be healthy, but could it all be complete nonsense?

By Anya Truong-George
Good news everyone – if you've always struggled to meet the 10,000 steps a day target, there's no need to stress because according to Dr Michael Mosley, the creator behind the 5:2 diet and the newly published Fast 800 diet, that rule could actually be "complete nonsense".
During an appearance on the Aussie breakfast show Studio 10, the British journalist and dietician says it's all about the activity you're doing, not how much exercise you do.
"It's about activity, not exercise," he says.
"Finding something you can stick to. It could be dancing or walking up the stairs. And I have to tell you this 10,000 steps is complete nonsense."
Considering there's an entire industry built around the idea of 10,000 steps a day – think the likes of FitBit, this is pretty intriguing stuff. And Dr Mosley isn't the only expert who thinks 10,000 steps a day isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Is the 10,000 steps a day goal not all it's cracked up to be? (Image: Getty)
A new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity explains it's the intensity of exercise you should be considering, not how much you do.
The results of the study reveal we should be aiming for a brisk walk at a pace of approximately 100 steps per minute to reach "moderate intensity", which can be broken down further to 25 steps per 15 seconds.
That means, if you walk at 100 steps per minute for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you'll be meeting your "moderate intensity" fitness goal – and that's only 3,000 steps a day… far removed from the 10,000 steps we've long been told to aim for.
Dr Michael Mosley also conducted his own experiment as part of the BBC show The Truth About Getting Fit, with the help of Professor Rob Copeland from Sheffield Hallam University.
Their aim was to compare the benefits and ease of doing 10,000 steps day against something called Active 10 – just 10 minute sessions of brisk walking.
If you take 100 steps per minute, 30 minutes a day, just five days a week, you would have met your 'moderate intensity' fitness goal, at just 3000 steps a day.(Image: Getty)
In their study, Michael and Rob discovered that volunteers who were trying to achieve 10,000 steps a day were struggling to meet their goal, while those who were asked to do three sessions of Active 10 found it much easier to achieve in their day-to-day lives as it took them less time to complete the exercises.
So which form of exercise was seen to have the best health benefits? The answer: not 10,000 steps a day. Why? Similar to the study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Rob says it all comes down to how vigorous your physical activity is.
This means that although the Active 10 volunteers were spending less time moving, they spent more time getting their heart rate up.
"It's when you are doing moderate intensity activity that you are starting to get the greatest health benefits," Professor Copeland says.
This means, in order to reap benefits faster, you're better off breaking a sweat for a shorter amount of time than going for long walks at a leisurely pace.
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So where did this idea of 10,000 steps a day come from anyway?

Believe it or not it's actually the result of a pretty brilliant marketing campaign by Japanese company Yamasa in the 1960s. They ran with the results of a single study conducted by Dr Yoshiro Hatano from Kyushu University of Health and Welfare to promote their new gadget the Manpo-Kei – an early form of a pedometer.
Dr Mosley says Dr Yoshiro was worried Japanese were adopting a more inactive lifestyle and thought if he could convince everyone to up their daily steps to 10,000 they would burn an additional 500 calories and remain slim… and that is quite literally where the whole idea was born and somehow, it's stuck around for decades.
So does that actually mean the idea of 10,000 steps a day is rubbish? Not, exactly.
You're better off breaking a sweat for a shorter amount of time than going for long walks at a leisurely pace. (Image: Getty)
Speaking to Well and Good, co-director of the Women's Health and Exercise Laboratory at Penn State University, Nancy Williams says "there's no one way to think about physical activity."
"If steps is an achievable goal, that is, if you can incorporate more walking more easily into your day, then increasing your step count is going to be a good goal for you.
"But if you physically don't have the time to get those steps in, then you might want to think about a higher intensity activity like a spin class."
If you need a good place to start, instead of starting with 10,000 as your goal, work out what your average steps a day are and set you goal slightly higher.
At the end of the day, any form of exercise is ultimately more beneficial than none at all; so whether it's taking that flight of stairs rather than the escalator, dancing like no one's watching in the comfort of your own living room or hopping off the bus a couple of stops early, find something that's realistic and enjoyable and get moving, whichever way works best for you.