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The Truth Behind 10,000 Steps (for Athletes)

We’ve heard it on nearly every step-tracking, pedometer-selling, fitness wearable, goal-setting advertisement: You need to take 10,000 steps daily to stay healthy. That’s about 5 miles (or 8 kilometers). While endurance athletes like runners, track and field stars, triathletes, and team sports heroes like rugby players, soccer players, and basketball players are already out there crushing upwards of 20,000 steps a session, what about those beastie boys (and girls) who mostly lift? What about the days when you’re not running laps or training? Is the number 10,000 even rooted in anything?

We did a deep dive to discover where that number came from and if it even matters for those of us in pursuit of peak athletic potential.

“If you just go out for a walk or a light jog or anything, it clears your head and you feel so fresh. And although it may be a bit of a struggle to get off the couch initially, once it's over and once you're actually doing it, it feels so free." — Jorga Miller, Rugby Sevens player

Here’s the truth behind 10,000 steps (for athletes). 

The Number 10,000

When you go back — way back — to where the 10,000 steps goal came from, you’ll find yourself in Japan sometime in the 1960s. There, a pedometer hit the markets shortly after the Tokyo Olympics. Its slogan? 10,000 steps meter.

So, like the New York Times claims in this article, the number 10,000 is actually rooted in marketing, not science. We tend to agree. Does that mean you don’t reap any health benefits? Is it all out the window? Not necessarily. 

The Health Factor

It’s pretty obvious that the more you move, the better it is for your health. If 10,000 is arbitrary, then what’s the actual number you need to unlock the cardiovascular and longevity benefits of “extra steps” in life? The answer is: It depends on your age.

Studies showed that when you’re under 60, around 10,000 steps are the right amount to help extend your life expectancy and strengthen your heart. Over 60, your body isn’t as efficient with its steps, so you need to take fewer to achieve the same results. They also showed that there’s a cap on the steps-to-health-benefits ratio. At some point, it doesn’t matter how many more steps you take. You aren’t going to boost your life expectancy or heart health any further.

Still, other studies also showed that your step or exercise factor should be relative to how much you’re sitting daily. Desk job folks need to make more of an effort to counteract the time they spend, well, sitting at a desk.

The last thing to think about is the type of steps you take. As most of us know, 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise are recommended. If your steps are vigorous, you need to take less. Goodbye 10,000, hello efficient 5,000 — right? Considering our Law of Maximizing Input, you know we love this concept.

By the way, we’re all for moving more because more movement can also lead to a better mental state. If you’re after a happiness boost or a mental health reset, aim for 10,000 steps a day to ensure movement medicine happens.

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I’m An Athlete. Do I Care? 

If you’re already an athlete, chances are you’re doing what it takes to be your best, healthiest self without overthinking the whole step-count thing. That being said, if you are only about lifting, add some extra steps to ensure your heart stays healthy. If you’re only into endurance, balance it with some weight training to reap the metabolism benefits and joint stability of muscle. Like everything in life, balance is best — unless, of course, you have a rigorous regime laid out by a professional to help you achieve your athletic goals.

What About Rest Days?

At DRYWORLD, we love a rest day. In fact, they’re one of our laws and are crucial to hitting your peak athletic performance. So, what if you’ve decided that the arbitrary 10,000 is the step goal for you? You still take them every day. Here’s why:

1. Creating habits is crucial — Consistency is key
2. They don’t have to be vigorous steps
3. It’s a goal — HIT it!

Even on a rest day, you can do what is called “active rest.” Active rest can include a long, leisurely walk that will get you to that step goal in no time. Even on a rest day, a goal is a goal. Make sure you take the steps to achieve it.

Our rule of thumb? Just get out there and MOVE every day. Make an effort. That’s what the 10,000 steps was originally for — getting people up and active. If the goal helps, set the goal to get your butt up and outside. If you’re already active, tick that box for the day, but make sure you’re consistent. Whether you want to ensure you make time for movement, want to reap the benefits of a healthier heart and body, or need a reset for your mind, adding steps to your day certainly won’t hurt. As studies showed, it can help to a degree. Whether you’re a peak performance athlete or an everyday person, we can all agree that movement is medicine, and adding a little bit more to your day will make a massive difference in the long run. 

“Walking is a man’s best medicine.” — Hippocrates

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