How many of you aim for 10k steps a day? And how many of you know where this “gold” number actually comes from? Probably not that many of you, right? The 10k-step myth was originally a marketing tool, dating back to 1965, when a Japanese company made a device called the Manpo-Kei, which translates as the 10,000-step meter. He suggested that when citizens went from an average of 4,000 steps a day to 10,000, they burned about 400 more calories a day. The thing is, science shows that these results could hold true for any number that gets bigger.
Take this study: After following 2.1k adults who used a pedometer fitness device over 11 years, she found that there’s really nothing special about 10k. Instead, it simply proved that the more exercise you get, the better. 5k passes might produce better results than 4k, 6k might exceed 5k, and so on. Similarly, other research has found that walking just 3.8k steps a day is enough to reduce cognitive decline by 25%.
Also, there is no direct equation X steps = Y calories; how fast you walk, the type of terrain you walk on, how much muscle you have and how much you weigh will all affect your results. The bottom line is that there is no point in holding onto these arbitrary numbers.
Fitness coach Fiona Simpson found this out for herself. I’ve literally always had it in my head that 10,000 steps was the norm or the optimum—you often hear that number being tossed around on social media, so it seems like a good place to be with your step count, she wrote on Instagram. HOWEVER – I have reduced my steps from an average of 12,000 to 7,000 (aiming for 6,000) – and the difference I have seen is insane!
It got into the habit during the pandemic, when for many of us myself including getting out for our daily hour-long exercise window was the only thing keeping us sane, and setting what was then an attainable goal it gave us that much needed dopamine hit. But then life was quieter. We didn’t have more than 60 minutes of office commutes or social lives to coordinate, hence why are we still clinging to such an illogical and frankly exhausting habit? As Fiona discovered, giving up might just be what you need to make life a little easier.
Here’s everything she learned when she cut her step goal in half.
1. My PBs have never been better
I feel like a superwoman at the gym, says Fiona. It’s so weird because I never thought the footsteps actually took a lot of energy out of me but since then my PBS has skyrocketed!! This makes a lot of sense. NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), which is any daily movement that isn’t a workout, can make up up to 50% of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), while a workout only equals about 10%. In other words, you burn a lot more energy walking than you do with a workout, so scaling back steps will leave you with more fuel in the tank for your gym sessions.
2. My hunger is more stable
I no longer have that overwhelming hunger, I feel full and satisfied with my meals rather than feeling ravenous 24/7, explains Fiona. This goes back to the above; you burn more energy (aka calories) walking than you do during workouts, so you’re less likely to feel hungry.
3. My stress levels have dropped
Trying to get 10,000 steps in my day has honestly made me so stressed out, says Fiona. I felt like there weren’t enough hours each day and was afraid to try to fit in. Hands up who can relate? Same.
It’s absurd to think that even though the world has returned to normal after the pandemic, some of us are still trying to find time for such a large number of steps. Habits are hard to break, we know; the idea of working in an office five days a week after spending over a year WFH is still absolutely ridiculous, but think of everything else you need to make time for. Commuting, socialising, beauty routines (props for anyone who has bothered during lockdown) it all adds up.
4. I have much more time in the day
Building on our point above, Fiona adds, I can take my time with things, do more for ME, and enjoy the gym without having to dread all the rungs.
5. My productivity is much higher
As a result of the last 2 points, I get to do so much more and am able to take my time with things I would have rushed and stressed about before, explains Fiona.
6. My recovery from the gym is better
I don’t feel so sore from my workouts and feel well rested after them! Fiona says. There is a difference between active recovery and rest days; active recovery might include a low intensity steady state (LISS) walk, but total rest days should also be part of your routine. Studies show that not doing so could actually hinder your goals, since your muscles aren’t able to stitch themselves up after you create small tears during your workout (a process known as sarcomeric hypertrophy).
7. I no longer feel the need to take steps to compensate for food
Diminishing them has allowed me to realize IT’S NOT THAT DEEP, it doesn’t matter if you’re under a few days etc, it won’t make a difference, says Fiona. In fact, as the aforementioned studies show, hitting (or exceeding 10k, as in Fiona’s case) isn’t necessary at all to get results. Also, your mental health should come first. Always.
If you need help with your or someone else’s eating disorder:
Get in touch with your GP and explain what’s going on, so you can be referred for specialist help
Contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Get in touch with the Seed eating disorder support service on 01482 718130 or seedeatingdisorders.org.uk
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