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You may have heard that walking 10,000 steps a day is good for the health. Even Oprah vowed to do it.

10,000 steps is said to be equivalent to about five miles, which of course depends on the length of your pace.

But where exactly did this number come from? And how effective is it?

SEE ALSO: One hour of exercise a week will protect you from depression

Who came up with the magic number?

According to Harvard Health, the 10,000 steps idea sprung in the mid-60s in Japan when pedometers were first used to encourage physical activity on a large-scale basis. A company started producing a pedometer called Manpo-kei which translates to “10,000 steps meter”.

Will 10,000 steps a day make a difference?

Aiming for 10,000 steps is worthwhile most especially if you’ve been living an inactive life. But if you can’t attain it, a smaller number, especially at greater intensity, can lead to health benefits too.

What does science say?

Here’s a rundown of what researchers suggest when it comes to practical ways of staying physically active.

  • Oregon State University, 2016
    “When it comes to steps, more is better than fewer, and steps at higher cadences for a significant amount of time are beneficial. A good target for healthy adults is 150 minutes per week spent at 100 or more steps per minute. And in terms of time spent sedentary, less is better - you want to spend as little time not moving as possible within reason.”

  • McMaster University, 2016
    A single minute of very intense exercise produces health benefits similar to longer, traditional endurance training.

    “Climbing a few flights of stairs on your lunch hour can provide a quick and effective workout. The health benefits are significant.”

  • Harvard Health, 2009
    “Walk at a fairly brisk pace of 3 mph to get health benefits from walking.”

  • Mayo Clinic, 2007
    “Walking is good, whether the outcome measurement is blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint problems or mental health.”

    “Getting out there and taking a walk is what it's all about. You don't have to join a gym, you don't have to check your pulse. You just have to switch off the TV, get off the sofa and go for a walk.”

  • American Heart Association
    Research has shown that walking at least 30 minutes a day can help you:

    • Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
    • Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and blood lipid profile
    • Maintain your body weight and lower the risk of obesity
    • Enhance your mental well-being
    • Reduce your risk of osteoporosis
    • Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer
    • Reduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

    And last but certainly not the least:

  • Hippocrates, many, many years ago
    “Walking is the best medicine.”

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