Every Picture Tells a Story: Debunking 10,000 Steps

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Ten thousand steps for exercise and health, much like ten thousand hours to become an “expert,” are magic quantifications passed down without clear origins. Some researchers sought some scientific clarity.

To achieve that more accurate quantification of the number of daily steps that might lead to better health, the researchers did a meta-analysis seeking to

“quantify dose-response associations of objectively measured step count metrics in the general population.”

As the researchers were cardiologists, the measure of health was all-cause mortality and incident cardiovascular disease. Twelve studies involving over 110,000 individuals serve to quantify steps’ impact on those two outcomes.

  • At 2,517 daily steps, all-cause mortality was reduced by 8%. For 2,735 daily steps, cardiovascular disease risk was reduced by 11%. Both in comparison to a reference of 2,000 steps/day.
  • As the graph shows, increasing steps resulted in a non-linear reduction in risk.
  • For those looking for the “optimal dose,” it was 8.763 daily steps for a 60% reduction in all-cause mortality and 7,126 daily steps for a 51% reduction in cardiovascular disease.
  • Gender played no role, but as you might suspect, a faster cadence yielded more improvement than a plodding one.

There are, of course, caveats. Dose-response gives one the impression that steps provide a path to better health, like taking an antibiotic for an infection once you become ill. But steps for cardiovascular health are much more like insulin for an individual with Type I diabetes; it is a lifelong treatment. The portions of the study that I had access to, and I apologize for not basing this report on the complete research, do not tell us how long we must apply the dose of steps. I am betting that this is more a quantification of a lifestyle than a specific health-related activity. The authors also take pains to point out that, unlike other treatments, you can never have enough steps, so those with an abiding trust in 10,000 enjoy. It may not provide more benefits, but it certainly can’t hurt.


Source: Relationship of Daily Step Counts to All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events Journal American College of Cardiology DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2023.07.029