Steps Count, Scientists Confirm

KNOXVILLE — As many Americans resolve to exercise in the new year, two professors of exercise science confirm that 10,000 steps a day is a reasonable activity goal for healthy adults.

Writing in the journal Sports Medicine, Catrine Tudor-Locke of Arizona State University and University of Tennessee professor David Bassett evaluate current research on the measurement of ambulatory activity levels using pedometers.

“Researchers and practitioners, including front-line health professionals, are using pedometers more and more frequently to help people increase physical activity,” Tudor-Locke said. “In order to use pedometers most effectively we need guidelines or indices, including steps per day indices indicative of high and low activity. We reviewed the existing literature to pull together the best current evidence for specific pedometer-based indices for research and practice purposes.”

The authors translate physical activity into step per day equivalents. Less than 5,000 is classified as sedentary, 5,000-7,499 is low active, 7,400-9,999 is somewhat active, and 10,000 or more is active.

The body of literature they reviewed makes a strong case for the 10,000-step recommendation as a reasonable public health goal for most Americans, Bassett noted. However, the study concludes that this goal is too low for children and too high for some older people.

The 10,000-step idea -originated in Japan in 1965. Many people have said that it was simply an arbitrary number, but it was really more of an educated guess,- Bassett said. “Since that time, studies have been published that indicate there is some merit to it. We wanted to review the literature on stepping and health outcomes.”

Among the documented health benefits of 10,000 steps per day are weight control, lower blood pressure, and increased bone density, Bassett said.

A recent study by UT exercise science professor Dixie Thompson showed improved glucose tolerance in overweight women with a family history of type 2 diabetes who follow the 10,000-step program.

Reaching the 10,000-step goal may require adding planned exercise to normal daily activity, Bassett said.

“If you-re a waitress or a store clerk and are on your feet eight hours a day, you might get up to 10,000 steps without any planned activity. For most of us with desk jobs, reaching 10,000 steps would require about 30 minutes of planned activity. That seems to be consistent with the surgeon general-s recommendation of doing 30 minutes of exercise a day.”