It was 11.50pm on Monday May 25 that I knew I had a problem. With just 10 minutes to go until my step-counting app rolled over into a new day, I was a little over 300 steps short of making my daily target of 10,000. Faced with ruining an unbroken stretch of eight days of making that mark, I took to running up and down our stairs repeatedly until I finally hit 10k, as my wife, kids and pets looked on with a mixture of concern and bemusement.
Fast-forward seven weeks or so and I’ve now done 60 consecutive days where I’ve managed at least 10,000 steps on each day. It seems I’m bucking the trend, as most people took far fewer steps during lockdown. Data from step counting specialist Fitbit showed that some of the hardest-hit countries such as Spain, Italy and the UK registered a decline in their average daily steps by as much as 38 per cent.
As for me I’ve gone from walking just 91.3km in March to over 277km a month in June. In terms of calories lost, meanwhile, it’s increased from a little under 7,000 in March to more than 19,000 in June. Yes, it’s safe to say I’ve become obsessed with hitting 10,000 steps every day and it’s not healthy. Well, it is, but you know what I mean.
So, is this obsession a healthy one? Certainly, any physical activity over and above what you would normally do is always going to be of benefit, but why 10,000 steps?
The answer dates back to 1965 when Japanese company Yamasa Tokei launched a new pedometer. They called it the Manpo-Kei (it translates as “10,000 steps meter”) and they released it with the slogan “Let’s Walk 10,000 Steps a Day”. There was no great science behind the target of 10,000 steps – it sounded about right for an active and healthier lifestyle. But the relentless pursuit of the magic number is not without its problems. For one, it means you have to carry your smartphone around with you all of the time, and if my phone is charging somewhere I can’t help but think of all those lost steps.
Finding the time to do 10,000 steps each day can also be an issue. I’m lucky in that I work from home, so I can always squeeze in a walk here or there. Having a dog helps, too.
And then there is the effect it has on your relationships. My wife has long since lost interest whenever I shove my phone under her nose and regale her with my progress, and as for my kids, well, they would prefer to clean their rooms rather than talk to me about my step count.
Experts recommend that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, as well as reducing the time spent in sedentary positions. In that respect, the quest for 10,000 steps seems to tick all the boxes. In June, for example, I spent a total of 130 hours walking, at an average of 4.3 hours per day and I do feel better for it, both physically and mentally. Regular walking is also known to help combat high blood pressure, aid weight loss and reduce stress.
Yet there is evidence to suggest that striving to hit 10,000 steps might not be the most efficacious way to reap maximum benefit from walking. In 2018, the medical journalist Michael Mosley, alongside Sheffield Hallam University, conducted an experiment.
He took two groups, giving one the task of walking 10,000 steps each day (around five miles) and the other the aim of completing three brisk 10-minute walks (around 3,000 steps or 1.5 miles). They concluded that the group with the shorter walks actually did 30 per cent more moderate to vigorous activity.
It makes sense. After all, there are days when I seem to just amble my way through my 10,000 steps, where my heart rate barely increases and I never come close to breaking a sweat.
I just try to look at the bigger picture. Any time spent off your backside is time well spent and any increase in the number of steps you are taking, be that 6,000 or 16,000, is always going to be worth the effort. Just don’t keep telling your partner about it.
The Daily Telegraph