Taking a Healthy Lifestyle One Step at a Time

MGEN Associate Teaching Professor Ram Hariharan debunks the myth of a magic number of steps people need to take each day to stay healthy. He says the true benchmark that people should be setting depends on individual health and fitness goals.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Erin Kayata. Main photo: Do you need to take 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy? Experts say there’s no magic number to take to stay healthy. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

How many steps should you be taking a day? ‘There’s certainly nothing special about 10,000,’ a longevity expert says

Feel that buzz? It’s your fitness tracker reminding you to move so you can hit your goal of 10,000 steps a day.

But many users of these devices are already aware of the reality that this is an arbitrary benchmark that, according to Ram Hariharan, an associate teaching professor at Northeastern University’s College of Engineering.

“There’s certainly nothing special about 10,000,” says Hariharan, who focuses on human longevity and machine learning. “Is there anything special about any of the values we look at in (health)? (Baseline numbers) are based on statistical averages rounded up or rounded down. This one is not based on statistical averages.”

So, how many steps should you be taking a day?

Hariharan says there’s evidence that 7,000 to 8,000 steps today might have some health benefits for people, but there is no magic number of steps to take to walk your way to health. The key isn’t the number, but focusing on both your health and fitness goals while also aiming to add more activity into your day.

Increase your activity level

Rather than trying to hit 10,000 steps a day, you should be simply trying to take more steps than you did the day before, says Stephen Intille, a professor with the Khoury College of Computer Sciences and Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern.

“(Ten thousand) is definitely an arbitrary number,” adds Intille, who does research on the development of personal health informatics systems. “The right way to do it is to increase whatever your average level is. If a person is very sedentary, they might be getting only 3,000 steps a day, and for them, that’s going to be an improvement.

“For someone who’s getting 10,000 steps a day, their goal, if possible, should be to try to increase that a little bit. … The biggest thing though is you would just want to be trying to (get in more activity). Any increase is going to help you.”

While your fitness tracker may be annoying when it scolds you for not taking enough steps, it can be a helpful reminder. The average American only takes about 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day which equates to about 1.5 to 2 miles.

If you lean more toward this end of the scale, Intille said walking is a good place to start your fitness journey and will help increase your step count day by day. Things like walking to places instead of taking your car can help with this.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Ram Hariharan

Related Departments:Multidisciplinary Masters (IT Areas)