Is it really necessary to walk 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy?

Is it really necessary to walk 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy?

Doctors and public authorities continue to highlight physical activity as an effective prevention factor. Reaching 10,000 steps per day has become a national health objective, at the risk of accentuating our dependence on technology as much as our thirst for performance.

Like every evening in bed, Juliette takes a look at her phone. Checking whether she has completed 10,000 steps has become routine for this 30-year-old young woman. When she decided to get back into sport in 2020, she saw walking as a complementary activity to her jogging sessions. Since then, for each professional meeting or with friends, she strives to make her journeys on foot: “Before it became a habit, I took public transport more. »

Juliette is not the only one scanning her screen in search of this data. In 2022, there would be more than a billion connected objects worldwide, including 135 million watches screwed onto users’ wrists. These objects imposed this new reflex. Because another idea has taken hold: forcing yourself to take 10,000 steps daily allows you to stay in good health.

“I always loved walking, but I had never counted my strides before I broke my ankle a year and a half ago,” says Sylvain, 67 years old. During his rehabilitation, he installed an application on his phone to measure the distance he walked and his physiotherapist recommended that he gradually reach 8,000 steps daily.

This retiree who likes long distances during his vacations quickly gets into the game. Companies in the tech world, it is true, have been able to make this functionality fun by integrating graphs, tables, objectives to be achieved based on data from previous weeks .

From now on, the “10,000 steps” are essential in our lives. But since he has forced himself to monitor his walks, Sylvain has received advertisements on his phone that are increasingly related to walking. This former audiovisual executive even remembers having received an email from Social Security encouraging him to achieve this objective.

The health insurance website also promotes this notion: “For adults, 10,000 daily steps (i.e. 1.5 to 2 hours of walking) are recommended, between 7,000 and 10,000 for subjects over 65 years, with well-demonstrated effects on health. » With the support of the Ministry of Health, a project entitled “10,000 steps, the challenge for life” was even set up in 2016 by Professor Philippe Amouyel, from the Lille university hospital center.

A marketing reference

However, this slogan is not an objective medical recommendation. The World Health Organization does not mention any goal of steps per day. The UN agency instead recommends a duration of moderate or intense endurance activity per week, 150 to 300 minutes minimum for an adult.

But then, how did this standard settle into the collective imagination? “Initially, it was a marketing approach implemented in the 1960s by a Japanese brand of pedometer,” recalls Martine Duclos, president of the National Observatory of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle. This tool called Manpo-kei (“10,000 step gauge”) reset to zero as soon as this threshold was crossed, and created, in fact, a reference to reach.

Medicine confirms that the latter has no scientific value, but represents a program good for health. However, according to studies, including that of the medical journal JAMA Network Open, significant beneficial effects are felt well below this standard. In 2021, American researchers demonstrate that the risk of mortality is lower from 7,000 daily steps.

A threshold already reached (or almost) by the many connected French people. In 2022, the WeWard pedometer application announces that its French users walk an average of 6,870 steps per day. At the top of the list, Parisians equipped with this pedometer would take 7,735 daily strides.

This alignment is not only beneficial in the short term, it is also part of a longer-term prevention logic. “Physical activity is an important concept for staying in good health over the long term,” explains Martine Duclos. It is essential to prevent cardiovascular diseases. It is important to walk, even when you are young. »

The medical profession is increasingly recommending that its patients follow the trend. A doctor suggested that Hassan start counting his steps. “I first heard about this trend from a colleague, but it was my doctor who convinced me by explaining its benefits,” explains this 60-year-old engineer. Since then, he has fluctuated between 6,000 and 7,000 steps.

Reaching 10,000 steps per day is actually quite a demanding goal. A practice that is not always compatible with the daily routine and is sometimes frustrating: “When I do less, I tell myself that it’s not enough, because it has become my daily physical activity,” laments Juliette. Despite everything, after work carried out on fans of “10,000 steps”, sociologist Anne-Sylvie Pharabod believes that it is above all a benevolent objective. “This is not a stressful and anxiety-provoking measure,” concludes the Orange Innovation researcher. Because people quickly realize that this figure is not so easily achievable. And overall, they readjust their routine to get closer to it, for example by taking out their trash in the evening to take extra steps. »

This quantification, however, underlines the omnipresence of technology in the health sector: making medical appointments online, teleconsultation, specialized applications, etc. In a society governed by digital data, individuals allow themselves to be tracked by their watch or their phone. phone. And if this practice of self-tracking (self-measurement) becomes more widespread, it above all evokes, in the eyes of the sociologist, our difficulty in building a collective project: “It is the idea widespread in ecology that everyone must do their part . I participate in my healthy lifestyle and I don’t rely solely on society to get there. Hoping that if more and more people share this objective, it will influence public policies. »

A race for perfectionism

“The 10,000 steps” are not only a tool for health, but also a reflection of the changes of the times. Paradoxically, the slogan is spreading as teleworking develops, an aggravating factor in sedentary lifestyles. “I spend a lot of time sitting, so it’s a way for me to exercise,” confides Denis, who converted to this activity the year he turned 61. This taste for moderation is contagious. The number of hours of sleep, which is decreasing, is closely monitored, again using mobile applications. To reach thresholds that theoretically allow us to stay in shape, we are asked for more and more indicators: eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day, sleep seven hours per night, drink 1.5 liters of water per day, etc.

But if the development of the injunction to walk is part of a general quest for well-being, Marco Saraceno, lecturer at the University of Reims-Champagne-Ardenne, author of studies on pedometers, perceives a fundamental difference with other statistics: “A large part of the followers of these walks are less interested in precise accounting than in emotional monitoring. It’s a way to remember having walked a lot on this or that day. However, this indicates something about the perfectionism of our time: we constantly seek to measure what we do and to be better. »

Behind this frantic race, this magic number of “10,000” is in his eyes an attempt to rediscover the simple pleasure of walking at a time when it is more fragmented and is no longer essential for daily life. Children rarely walk several kilometers to get to school. And the ritual of walking around town is lost. The leitmotif of this step goal also illustrates the thirst for a return to nature, in vogue since the confinements. “I see there a desire to distance ourselves from the car,” adds Sylvain, “while in the countryside, we continue to take it to go 500 meters. » This is perhaps the real advantage of this search for “10,000 steps”: to restore the taste for outdated practices by making them desirable again with the help of technology.

Seniors lounge

Pilgrim will be present at the Salon des Seniors in Paris, whose theme this year is seniors and sport. Find us at stand E02, from March 13 to 16, Porte de Versailles.

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