Ask the Pharmacist

Q) I’m an older person who would really struggle with doing something like jogging or swimming. Is there anything to this 10,000 step craze that everybody seems to be tracking?

A) Well, there is definitely a fair bit of science supporting the importance of taking lots of steps (in other words moving around rather than being sedentary) but the actual 10,000 figure appears to be rather arbitrary. As we will discuss shortly, there are a number of studies that have looked at the positive health implications of taking a certain number of steps but none of these studies found anything of note related to this supposed magic of 10,000.

It appears this figure originates as more of a marketing tool rather than as a scientifically proven suggested target to achieve better health. A pedometer manufactured in Japan back in 1965 was given the brand name of Manpokei, which roughly translates to “10,000 step meter”. The rationale behind the choice of this name appears to be that the number 10,000, written in Japanese, looks like a person walking.

The good news from all of this is that scientists have found very good evidence that seniors can improve their health substantially by taking less than half of that number of steps. This evidence comes from the Women’s Health Study which looked at 16,741 women (with an average age of 72) all of whom wore some sort of device for seven days to track their movements.

The study ran from 2011 to 2015 and researchers were looking to see if there would be a correlation between a set number of steps and a longer life and whether the intensity of the steps mattered (i.e. is just walking around the house of any use or does it have to be at a brisk pace at the very least). Researchers tracked deaths in the study group from then until the end of 2017.

When the data was analyzed it was found that death rates were highest amongst those women who moved very little but started to drop in those women who reached 4,400 steps a day. In fact those who reached this number had a 41% lower chance of dying when compared to those women who walked 2,500 steps a day or less. Perhaps not surprisingly, death rates continued to plunge beyond the 4,400 number all the way up to 7,500 steps a day. Fitting more steps than that number into your day did not seem to increase life span any further. Also interestingly, at least in this age group, the intensity of the steps did not seem to matter. Any type of movement seemed to be of benefit even if the purpose behind those steps was more related to housework than to exercise.

Further information that was garnered from the study was that, on average, 60 year old females take about 4,000 steps each day so it would take only a very minor change in their lifestyle to hit this 4,400 mark. In fact, even the most inactive of women averaged about 2,700 steps a day so it would take only a modest increase of 2,000 steps (which equates to about an extra mile of movement over a 24 hour period) to hit milestones that could help extend their lives.

Beyond a longer life, there are many other potential benefits to one’s health that comes with fitting more steps into your life. Walking is, of course, a weight bearing exercise which helps improve bone density and lessens your risk of being diagnosed with osteoporosis or suffering a fracture later in life.

Increased walking has also been associated with higher levels of the feel good hormones known as the endorphins which serve to heighten one’s mood while simultaneously lowering levels of anxiety. Walking will also increase blood flow to the brain which is associated with improvements in thinking and reasoning. It’s also very good for both your heart and your lungs and can help to lower your blood sugars and blood pressure.

As such, the evidence is overwhelming that even incorporating such simple measures as walking around the block or to the nearest store rather than driving can not only help you to live longer but is also better as there is potential for even this modest amount of exercise to help you feel more well. For more information about this or any other health related questions, contact your pharmacist.