In modern life, there are some strange fitness goals. Many people want to complete a marathon in their fittest years. Others want to complete an ironman. Most people no matter their fitness level would like to walk 10,000 steps a day. Are these goals and objectives based on the best possible health outcome for us or something else? Too often the answer is something else and perhaps we should reexamine our goals based not on what is popular but on what is most beneficial.
The distance of a marathon is 42.2km. Why do so many people want to run 42.2km as fast as they can? It is not a round number so it could be the number that makes you live longest? The truth is that there is a town in Greece called Marathon and it is 42.2 km away from Athens. The Athenian army won a battle there and one man ran the entire distance to inform the city of Athens. Since then the Greeks have run this distance in his honor and it has become a worldwide sensation.
There are numerous studies that show running long distances like marathons are not healthy. They can bring the body to the brink of exhaustion and in the long run, can do damage to your joints that can’t be repaired. Perhaps we should let the legend die and start running distances that make more sense?
10,000 steps is a common goal on most Fitbit and sports trackers. Has 10,000 been determined as the optimum number of steps? Not at all. The figure actually comes from a Japanese marketing campaign in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics. A company was selling a pedometer and found that the name had a nice ring to it and the goal took off.
More recently there have been studies conducted to examine the health benefit of these steps and what impact they have on a person’s life. In the largest study, 17,000 women with an average of 72 were studied. The women were divided into groups based on the average steps they took per day and were revisited 4 years later. The number that had died were examined across each group.
The study showed that the more steps someone took the greater the health increased. The largest difference found was that between 2,000 and 4,000 steps. Taking these 4,000 steps appeared to make a significant difference to your life expectancy. Interestingly the study also showed that those benefits plateaued at 7,500 steps. After that, the increase in steps made no significant increase in health. Perhaps we should walk 7,500 steps every day instead?
While it is not as catchy it may be a more achievable target for people and may deliver the same health goals. The study also show that the intensity of the steps didn’t actually matter. The key point was to be active.
The study could have some flaws. The women walking fewer steps may have had poor health conditions already that were the reason they couldn’t walk more. It could be that the steps were not the cause of differences in health but a clear result of different health factors across the women.
Overall the study likely shows that being more active will make you more healthy. A particular goal makes sense if it helps you get off the couch and get active. But if the goal is too high and too hard to achieve and it causes you to give up, set a different goal. If the goal is actually damaging your body, choose a smarter goal. Goals are a great way to get fit as people naturally want to have a sense of achievement but choosing smart goals that benefit you is the key to a long and happy life.