If You Wake Up At The Same Time Every Night, This Is What Your Body’s Trying To Tell You

After you wearily open your eyes, you look at your bedside clock and see it’s 4:00 a.m. Great! A few more hours of sleep to go. But you’re still annoyed – not to mention a little spooked. You’ve woken up at the same time every night this week, and you have no idea what this means. And if that sounds like you, perhaps you should know about the Chinese feng shui body clock – as it could tell you a lot about your health.

That may sound a little wacky, but Chinese medicine has a long history. It’s a very spiritual system that claims, among other things, that your health is tied to outside factors. As the seasons change throughout the year, then, your body apparently reacts to the alterations – according to tradition, anyway.

You probably know more than you think about Chinese medicine, too, as it’s closely linked to feng shui. Remember the trend for feng shui in home interiors? If you do, you know this centuries-old practice is ultimately about achieving “balance” with everything around you. It also reckons that certain periods of the day are tethered to different areas of the human anatomy.

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That brings us back to the idea of the Chinese feng shui body clock. Unlike the standard biological clock you may already be familiar with, this one has ties to an all-encompassing energy named “qi.” Apparently, this qi can be found not only in the world itself, but also in our bodies and minds.

Qi is also said to transfer to different organs in the body every 120 minutes. So, if you find yourself stirring at the same moment every night, it could well be an internal sign. Yes, with potential ramifications for your health! But what does your specific wake-up time mean?

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Well, to begin with, let’s focus on the period between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Many folks settle down for the night then, ready to get a good night’s sleep. But if that’s you and you struggle to rest once your head hits the pillow, your thyroid gland could be to blame.

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The thyroid belongs to the endocrine system, which means it’s responsible for generating hormones – including adrenaline. And if you can’t drift off in the evening, your levels of this vital “fight-or-flight” hormone could very well be too high.

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According to the Chinese feng shui body clock, this indicates that you need to come face-to-face with whatever’s bothered you that day. But there are other ways to try and calm yourself in those instances. A form of sleep meditation could prove helpful, for instance.

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Otherwise referred to as Yoga Nidra, this mindfulness method is said to help take the load off. Emma Richards explained more in a June 2020 piece for Marie Claire, writing, “During sleep, your subconscious mind cannot leave behind your worries and stress. But during Yoga Nidra, your conscious mind can, making it a form of sleep therapy.”

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On the other hand, perhaps you dropped off without a hitch only to find yourself waking again between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. And if that’s the case, then the Chinese feng shui body clock suggests your gallbladder – which can be found below the liver – may be responsible.

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The gallbladder plays an integral role in breaking down the food in your body, as it generates bile. And if you’re waking up when the organ’s hard at work, there could very well be a problem with this part of the body. According to the Chinese feng shui body clock, there could be another issue at play, too.

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You see, the gallbladder has been linked to feelings of bitterness and concern in Chinese medicine. It does produce bile, after all! And a specialist in the field named Robert Keller has revealed a little more about this connection. On his website, the practitioner explains, “The gallbladder engenders the capacity for courage and bravery.”

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Keller added, “In the West, we speak of having ‘gall’ to express this quality. Weakness in gallbladder function may manifest with a tendency towards fear and timidity. While the liver is responsible for planning and organizing, the gallbladder is responsible for decisiveness and execution. Inability to act may be tied to an imbalance.”

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If you’re a procrastinator, then, it may all be tied to your gallbladder function – although that’s not an excuse to put off tasks for another day! But what about if you regularly wake up from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.? At this stage, you should be in a deep sleep – in theory, anyway. And while you rest, your liver is hard at work.

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However, if you’re consistently disturbed during this period, the Chinese feng shui body clock claims that your liver could be the culprit. And while the vital organ has an important job in clearing out internal junk, its effectiveness can supposedly be influenced by our feelings. Specifically, a build-up of negativity can knock it off balance.

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And if you find yourself getting angry during the day, that could account for these periods of wakefulness. You see, Chinese medicine believes that there’s a clear link between the liver and these spells of indignation. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation, this pent-up fury could even signal “a liver function problem.”

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But there are things you can do to alleviate this beyond taking a chill pill. You can avoid sitting down for dinner too late, for instance, as that will leave your liver with less to do between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. That way, it’s more likely to have finished flushing your system clean before you hit the hay. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol could help, too.

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Maybe you’re waking up during the next qi cycle, though? That takes place between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., which should be a time when you’re happily dreaming away. And if you’re having a particularly good time in your dream, it can be really frustrating to suddenly come to in the real world.

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But perhaps you should blame your lungs for that – if you believe the Chinese feng shui body clock, anyway. These vital organs should be at peak performance during this time, spreading plenty of oxygen throughout your body and helping to revitalize you.

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In Chinese medicine, though, the lungs are often connected with the emotions of sadness and loss. And so if you typically stir between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., it could be that you’re upset about something that happened earlier. Still, at least there are ways to combat this, according to therapist Miriam Reyes.

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In a 2014 piece for website The Joy of Wellness, Reyes wrote, “Whenever you suffer from a lung deficiency and have any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is very important that you reevaluate the philosophy by which you live. Find new ways of focusing on life and find alternatives for self-motivation. Learn more about yourself and about your spiritual power that lies within.”

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That’s good advice, although it doesn’t help with the short-term goal of returning to the land of nod. Thankfully, meditation should get the job done. Concentrating on your breathing – and keeping your inhalations and exhalations at regular intervals – could work, too.

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But what if you doze throughout the night, only to find yourself awake between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.? This period is the final night-time cycle for the Chinese feng shui body clock. And if you’re an early bird, you’ll likely already be stirring at this stage anyway.

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However, if you’re constantly awakened before your alarm goes off, your large intestine could be responsible. This organ serves a similar function to your liver in helping you get rid of unneeded junk. And while that may result in trips to the bathroom in the wee small hours, there could be another reason why you’re conscious so early in the morning.

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The website of Massachusetts clinic Stepping Stone Acupuncture and Wellness claims, “An emotional imbalance in the large intestine energy could manifest… as an emotional tendency to not let things go.” If you’re consistently getting up between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., then, it could be a good idea to take stock of your life and what’s really important.

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Chinese medicine even suggests that this reluctance to deal with personal baggage could affect the large intestine in a more tangible way. Apparently, it may lead to bouts of constipation – meaning this metaphorical “blockage” could become very much a physical issue. Simply put, you’ve got to be willing to move on from any problems that are plaguing you.

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But the Chinese feng shui body clock doesn’t stop once you’re finally out of bed. Yes, it carries on as the day begins. And from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., the qi is said to travel down to your stomach. That makes sense. It’s breakfast time, after all!

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Still, while you’re chowing down on your toast or cereal and refueling your body for the day ahead, you may be feeling some unease. It’s beyond what you may experience when anticipating going to work, although you just can’t put your finger on why you’re so shaken up. But that’s to be expected, according to Chinese medicine.

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As the qi reaches the stomach, you see, you may go through periods of anxiety. That’s what feng shui specialist Kathryn Weber claims, anyway, on her Red Lotus Letter website. This part of the body is said to be linked to “dread” and “fear of change,” so make of that what you will.

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But the Chinese feng shui body clock carries on regardless, and from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. – as you get into the swing of things at work or at home – the focus turns to the spleen. This organ can be found near the stomach, and it serves numerous important functions in the human body.

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The spleen is rather an unsung hero, in fact, since it helps the immune system to battle off harmful germs. But when our qi passes through the organ, we can apparently experience feelings of emotional discomfort if something’s amiss. Pangs of depression can also be quite prevalent over those two hours, according to Red Lotus Letter.

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Between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., meanwhile, our heart comes to the fore. And if the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation website is to be believed, it’s crucial to keep a positive mindset during those two hours. If we don’t, the consequences could be pretty serious.

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“True cardiovascular health is not just about your physical fitness,” the website explains. “It’s about deep contentment with one’s life and destiny. Happiness and love are often associated with the heart representing a state of peacefulness. Stress or lack of self-expression can directly impact this organ’s function.”

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Spending time with a loved one could do you and your heart the world of good, then. A bit of exercise may help bust that stress, too. Basically, anything that raises your spirits or takes your mind off your troubles should work.

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Then, as we head towards lunchtime, the Chinese feng shui body clock ticks over to another organ. Yep, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., it’s all about your small intestine. Not something we’ve ever thought we’d write! But maybe you should consider what you feel during this period.

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Generally speaking, you’re likely to be eating at this time. That way, you’ll have enough energy to tackle afternoon tasks with ease. Skip lunch, though, and you’ll be depriving your small intestine of vital nutrients. And one knock-on effect of this is tiredness – so make sure you grab a bite when you can.

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That brings us on to the next stage in the qi cycle, which takes place between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. This period focuses on the bladder – and yep, you read that right. Maybe you’re, well, struggling to go, or perhaps you’re heading to the bathroom too much. You know you’re not drinking more than usual, either. So, what does this development mean?

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Well, according to the Chinese feng shui body clock, you’re probably a little emotionally unsettled. Red Lotus Letter suggests, you see, that bladder issues during this two-hour spell signify “fear of letting go” and “holding on to old, outdated ideas.” Consider new approaches, then – both in life and at work.

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And from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., your kidneys come to the fore. During that period, the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation advises you to look out for a certain sign. The website explains, “The kidney is the ‘reserve generator’ of energy in the body, supplying extra qi to all the organs when necessary.”

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That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for you? Well, the website says, “[The kidney’s] corresponding emotion of fear can be a red flag that these powerhouses of the body are themselves low on qi and working too hard.” At least you may feel a little different between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. That’s when the pericardium – which shields your heart – is supposedly infused with qi, prompting feelings of love and intimacy. Aww.

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But now we know exactly why you may be waking up so early, we should probably consider another aspect of overall health: physical fitness. So, how many steps do you walk on an average day? And does it really even matter? Well, here’s the thing: it actually does. Thanks to new research by Harvard Medical School, we now know a lot more about what might happen to your body if you don’t walk a certain distance. And the number of steps that you need to reach may be quite different from the goal of 10,000 that’s ingrained in our minds.

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When it comes to staying fit and healthy, we’re obsessed with numbers. There’s the now-famous “five-a-day,” for instance, which refers to the portions of fruit and vegetables you should eat on a daily basis. Then there’s the suggested eight glasses of water – or two-liter rule. And many will be familiar with other recommended restrictions, too, such as the 14 units of alcohol per week for men and seven for women.

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What about the other health-related figures we can now keep track of, too? There’s the number of calories we burn, for example, and our heart rates and blood pressure scores. And we’ve also long been obsessed with how much we weigh. So it seems a natural step – if you’ll pardon the pun – to start considering how many physical steps we take per day, too. After all, devices these days make it so easy.

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Perhaps the most simple product on the market is the humble step counter, or to give it its official name, a pedometer. The consistently impressive sales of these devices – 125 million were dispatched around the globe in 2017, for instance – seem to suggest that people just can’t get enough of tracking how far they walk.

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Unsurprisingly, then, pedometers are now everywhere. Popular brands include Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Apple, Samsung and so many more besides. And then there’s the Japanese device called the manpo-kei, or the “10,000-steps meter” as it translates. Any guesses what it does?

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The history of the manpo-kei is very much entwined with the origins of a popular belief: that 10,000 steps a day is the magic number. That is, for maximum health benefits, we all should be hitting this daily target. And now, much like five-a-day and two liters a day, 10,000 steps has become another universal health mantra.

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Believe it or not, but the concept of the manpo-kei goes all the way back to the 1960s. Tokyo was due to host the Olympic Games in 1964, and in the build-up to that popular event, Japan embarked on a health kick. Perhaps for the very first time on a nationwide basis, the benefits of exercise were promoted.

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In particular, the Japanese population began to focus on the fact that daily activity was one of the best means to ward off all manner of health nasties. Obesity was set to be an issue for the first time, too, so there was that to consider. Plus, there was also a growing belief that exercise would help fight afflictions such as hypertension and diabetes – a theory we now know to be true.

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The solution is as straightforward today as it was back in the 1960s: walking. Yep, the easy movement was identified as the most practical means of staving off lifestyle diseases. Almost everyone can take part, it costs nothing and can even be incorporated into existing daily activities. Plus, you don’t need a coach or any equipment – unless you want a pedometer, of course.

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But why measure steps, exactly? Well, “Steps are a basic unit of locomotion and as such, provide an easy-to-understand metric of ambulation.” That’s according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, anyway, which is the body responsible for putting together physical activity recommendations and guidelines for Americans.

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But that’s not all. The Advisory Committee also points out, “Steps can be at light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity levels, providing a range of exertion choice to promote walking at all ages and for all levels of fitness.” In short, you can perform the activity at different intensities. Think running in comparison to walking, for example.

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The Advisory Committee also states, “For these reasons, the measure of steps per day has the potential to significantly improve the translation of research findings into public health recommendations, policies, and programs” And that’s essentially why pedometers have become so prevalent since Japan’s manpo-kei device from the ’60s.

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As we’ve already said, manpo-kei literally translates as “10,000-steps meter” in Japanese. But where did this number come from? Why 10,000? Surely it was based on detailed research? You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a crack team of scientists behind the scenes who, after years of dedicated study, had finally reached their “eureka” moment. But there wasn’t. It turns out it was all just clever marketing. You feel betrayed, we know.

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In truth, a Japanese company called Yamasa came up with the idea of 10,000 steps to sell its step-counting product to the population. And goodness it worked. Here we are, more than half a century later, and millions of people are working towards this daily fitness goal. Now, that’s the power of a good promotional campaign!

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But that still doesn’t answer why they picked the number 10,000. University of Tennessee’s head of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies, David Bassett shed light on this. He told The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., “There wasn’t really any evidence for it at the time. They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy.”

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The good people of Japan loved the idea, and pretty soon, everyone else did too. Think of how many of your friends and family own a Fitbit, for example. More generally, though, these devices are collectively known as “wearables” – no matter the brand. And research by the company Gartner suggested that 500 million people would have had one strapped to them in 2020.

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But why the craze? It can’t just be about the desire to hit that magic 10,000-step target, can it? At its core, this obsession with the number of steps we take really all boils down to the dangers of inactivity. Being inactive simply isn’t good for us, and while our knowledge of that fact has only increased, modern life has somehow conspired against us.

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For a start, we now have luxuries of which our forebears could only have dreamed. We can drive wherever we need to go, and we have all manner of gadgets and machines to take care of previously tough, physical tasks. Add to that the fact that many of us now perform jobs that involve sitting at a desk all day, and in terms of getting those steps in, it’s all a bit of a recipe for disaster.

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Sedentary lifestyles are dangerous, but for many, that’s what our day-to-day living now looks like. The fact is, unless you actually put in the effort to walk, jog or run, most of us will simply not need to move our feet much on a daily basis. And so getting active in the 21st century is very much about motivation rather than necessity.

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But just how harmful is being inactive? Well, according to the Johns Hopkins University website, there are many ills connected to inactivity and being unfit. The first is the higher chances of developing high blood pressure, which is, of course, bad for the heart. Plus, exercise can help prevent people from contracting type 2 diabetes.

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But that’s not all. Again, according to Johns Hopkins University, inactivity may make you more susceptible to contracting various types of cancer. And on the flip side, if you’re overweight, regular bodily movement lessens the chances of suffering from obesity-related diseases. For elderly people, a little regular exercise can prevent falls and helps them to carry on completing everyday tasks with ease. Plus, it’s a known fact that being active can lift a low mood and dispel feelings of anxiousness.

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And in terms of inactivity demographics, the Johns Hopkins website has some interesting facts. The first is that lack of movement does, as perhaps one would expect, become more common as someone gets older. Another, perhaps less obvious point, is that men tend to be more active than women. Interestingly, though, these figures do vary depending on where you’re from in the world.

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As it turns out, you see, some people simply live longer in certain countries. These areas – such as Ikaria in Greece – have been coined “Blue Zones.” So, what is it they’re doing better than the rest of us? Well, it seems their diets are healthier, they have more sex over 50, they drink wine, sleep in the day and, crucially, they do a lot of walking.

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This, then, conveniently brings us back to this idea of the 10,000 steps – a target that has become seemingly so set in stone that it is practically ingrained. In a 2019 BBC article titled “Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day?” Claudia Hammond wrote, “If you are going to count steps, the magnitude of your goal matters. Most tracking devices are set to a default goal of 10,000 steps – the famous number that we all know we should reach.” But surely this isn’t a one-size-fits-all sort of situation?

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Hammond then dug a little deeper into the 10,000-step obsession. She said, “You might assume that this number has emerged after years of research to ascertain whether 8,000, 10,000 or maybe 12,000 might be ideal for long-term health. In fact, no such large body of research exists.” Well, it may not be a large body, but there are finally some revealing research results into which we can sink our collective teeth.

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In 2019 a report was published in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the idea of steps and their impact on mortality. Dr. I-Min Lee, who took part in the research, is a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine. She also works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as an associate epidemiologist, and along with her colleagues, Dr. Lee was determined to see whether there’s a scientific reason to strive – or stride, we should say – for 10,000 steps.

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In their research, the Harvard Medical School team focused on older women; their average age came out at 72. Noting down the group’s steps for an entire week, the experts then measured outcomes over the course of a period spanning more than four years. And as far as the 10,000 steps rule was concerned, the results were enlightening.

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First up, the research team found that nowhere near 10,000 steps were needed to lessen the chances of dying – at least in this particular demographic, anyway. The magic number here was 4,400 steps per day. And that was in comparison to 2,700, which by most calculations would be considered typical of a sedentary lifestyle.

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So the good news here is that if you are a 72-year-old woman, you don’t need to aim for a number anywhere near as high as 10,000. In fact, less than half that number proves to be valuable in terms of achieving a longer life. But then you may well wonder if going above that 4,400 number can add even more value. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting.

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Yes, going above 4,400 steps does seem to further the benefits. But what about that magic number of 10,000? It’s the very figure that inspired the name of the Japanese manpo-kei. And it’s a number that has been adopted by heavyweights such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the American Heart Foundation and even the World Health Organization in terms of a recommended daily target. But is it a distance we should all be aiming to achieve?

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According to Dr. Lee’s team’s findings, the benefits of increased steps continue to grow before eventually plateauing. If you are a 72-year-old female, then, the magic number is 7,500. And you don’t need to be a math whizz to work out that this number is significantly lower than the fabled 10,000.

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As with all research studies, there are a number of variables in play. Death comes about due to all manner of factors and combinations of individual genetic and lifestyle characteristics. Diet is something to consider, for example. And measuring the results over four years clearly doesn’t factor in what happened in the previous X number of years that these particular research subjects were on the planet. And then there are those Blue Zones, of course.

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The research by Dr. Lee and her team also attempted to consider stepping intensity. This relates to the fact that a step at high intensity – sprinting, for example – is not necessarily the same as a step taken at a gentle walking pace. Yet the research findings suggested that “stepping intensity was not clearly related to lower mortality rates after accounting for total steps per day.”

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And once again, these research findings applied to only one study group: older women. The number of steps that benefit you specifically will, of course, change depending on any number of demographic considerations, such as your gender, age and pre-existing health. But at least these Harvard Medical School results can change the conversation.

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The fact of the matter is, the very idea of doing 10,000 steps is at best a shot in the dark. And it always was. “There’s no health guidance that exists to back it up,” Mike Brennan told The Guardian. And as Public Health England’s national lead for physical activity, he should know. Yet because so many wearable pedometers have been programmed with a 10,000-step target, that goal has been – and still is – widely propagated.

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Research studies certainly haven’t helped up until now, either. “This number [10,000] keeps being reinforced because of the way research studies are designed,” Catrine Tudor-Locke, a professor at the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring based at the prestigious University of Massachusetts Amherst told The Guardian.

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Until Dr. Lee’s team delved a little deeper, it had all been about proving the value of 10,000 steps. Tudor-Locke continued, “So, the study might find that 10,000 helps you lose more weight than 5,000, and then the media see it and report: ‘Yes, you should go with 10,000 steps,’ but that could be because the study has only tested two numbers. It didn’t test 8,000, for example, and it didn’t test 12,000.”

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It seems regularly hitting the 10,000-step mark would do you as much good as hitting considerably fewer: 7,500, for example. Plus, it pays to consider that many people are simply intimidated by the prospect of hitting five figures. And so they may well give up. There is, however, a much more practical approach.

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Tudor-Locke probably summed it up best. She said, “We know that sedentary lifestyles are bad, and if you’re taking fewer than 5,000 steps a day on average this can lead to weight gain, increase your risk of bone loss, muscle atrophy, becoming diabetic and this litany of issues,” she told The Guardian. There is a massive caveat, though.

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Tudor-Locke hit the nail on the head, and at the same time validated Dr. Lee’s team’s findings, by saying, “There seems to be an obsession about 10,000 and how many steps are enough, yet it’s more important, from a public health point of view, to get people off their couches. The question we should really be asking is: how many steps are too few?” So, is that what you’re asking yourself, or are you simply going for that pre-programmed – in more ways than one – 10,000 mark?

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