Exploring 10,000 Steps a Day with Student Science
Take a science project look at the benefits of walking, the idea of 10,000 steps a day, and the current fitness tracker trend. There are numerous variables students might explore and compare in custom science projects that look at health and human behavior.
10,000 steps a day. That's a rule of thumb widely passed around as the number of steps an average, healthy adult should target as a baseline for activity each day. The source of this number dates back to a 1960's Japanese advertising campaign for a pedometer, but the number has since become one circulated in both medical and social circles as a good and easy-to-remember goal—a target number of steps that may help improve overall health and well-being.
Depending on your age, the Surgeon General's recommendation is for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week (for adults) and sixty minutes of activity a day (for children). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide further guidance for weekly activity goals, including specific targets based on age. (Note: The CDC has a special section on walking as a way to meet their recommended number of weekly minutes of physical activity, but they do not specifically note a daily steps target.)
10,000 steps equates to somewhere around 5 miles, depending on your stride. Since walking five miles, start to finish, would take most people more than thirty minutes, it might seem like there is a mismatch between step goals and goals for total weekly activity in minutes. But those tracking steps are often looking at a tally of activity over time, not a set start-to-finish period of activity. Do 10,000 steps a day match up to the 150 minutes a week recommendation? For most people, meeting the step count probably puts them above and beyond 150 total minutes. The key is to ensure that "enough" of the steps are reaching a healthy level of intensity—not just trips back and forth to the refrigerator.
The reported health and emotional benefits of increasing one's daily activity through walking are wide-ranging and include possible weight loss and lowered risk for blood pressure, cardiac, cholesterol, and glucose-related health issues. Given that walking is one way to help improve overall health and help prevent against certain kinds of health problems, striving to meet a daily number of steps may make you more mindful of your steps and help you look for ways to increase your daily and weekly activity.
Depending on your current level of activity, 10,000 steps may or may not sound like a lot, but many people find once they begin wearing a pedometer or fitness tracker that their daily habits don't put them anywhere near the 10,000 target! Having an easy-to-remember number in mind as a daily target can help people who want to improve their overall health, and the rise in popularity of fitness trackers and wearables that feed activity data into apps or online sites shows that more and more people are paying attention to their steps.
Making Science Connections
Do you wear or use a pedometer? Do your friends? How about family members? Are you curious about the number of steps you take a day, the number you take on average in a week or a month, or even how your numbers vary on school days versus weekends? Does wearing a pedometer or fitness tracker make a difference in terms of how much activity someone does? Do all pedometers and tracking tools work the same? Have you ever looked at how a phone-based pedometer compares to one worn on a wrist or one clipped to a hip-level pocket?
What kinds of changes are necessary for an average person to achieve 10,000 steps a day? Parking farther from a store entrance, for example, is an easy way to add a few steps. What other changes can someone make? How does starting to track daily steps change how someone feels about their health and fitness? What kinds of signs might someone hitting 10,000 steps a day begin to notice? What elements of a fitness tool or features of a fitness program make a difference for users in whether or not they stick with walking, make lasting fitness habits, and reach their goals?
The questions above are just a sampling of questions that might come up when you think about the current fitness tracker craze and the idea of 10,000 steps as a daily challenge. You might come up with a number of other questions related to walking, health, and fitness tracking, and with some thought, you can turn questions like these into fun and informative science projects!
Whether you decide to start wearing a fitness tracker (or several) to investigate an aspect of walking and tracking or decide to do a comparative study based on data collected from others, the following projects offer suggestions for hands-on student science investigations related to exercise, increased activity, walking, and health:
- Heart Health: How Does Heart Rate Change with Exercise?: how does walking at different intensity levels compare? Are all steps equal in terms of your heart?
- Blood Sugar Balancing Act: How Exercise Tips the Scales: how does exercise impact blood sugar levels? For someone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, exercise may make a big difference in insulin sensitivity, even hours after exercise. How does walking compare to other forms of exercise?
- A Day in the Life of Your Heart: do you tend to walk more or less during different parts of the day? What does this mean in terms of how hard your heart is working during the morning versus the afternoon?
- Stride Science: targeting 10,000 steps doesn't mean the same thing for everyone! Take a close-up look at the relationship between height and stride.
- The Brain-Body Connection: Can Exercise Really Make Our Brains Work Better?: with a walking-based exercise program, will individuals see changes in brain recall?
- Staying Healthy with Personal Medicine Apps: can a simple reminder app help people who are trying to adopt a pattern of daily exercise?
- Effects of Exercise: Changes in Carbon Dioxide Output: what kinds of physiology changes happen during exercise?
The Power of a Goal
Keep in mind that 10,000 steps isn't a number that is set in stone. If you set up a fitness tracker, you may find 10,000 steps used as a default daily target, and you may really like that number. It may be a number that you hit when you go out for a particularly walk-heavy activity now and then and may be a number that represents a doable stretch from your regular number of steps, a number you can strive for and, with a bit of extra work, reach each day. But 10,000 may be too high or even too low a number for some people. People who are currently more sedentary, may need to strive for a lower number of steps and work toward a higher goal. For some people any increase in activity may be a step in the right direction.
Maybe your science project will help others figure out a plan of attack for improving overall fitness behaviors and for setting a good daily, weekly, or even monthly goal!