One of the most common fitness goals spurted out these days is that you should be aiming to take 10,000 steps a day. FitBit encourage this, fitness bloggers quote it, and there are websites dedicated to it. But what us so special about 10,000 steps? Where did it come from and is it really necessary?
The idea originated from research lead by Dr. Yoshiro Hatano in Japan in the 1960’s. Dr. Hatano found that an average Japanese person took 3,500 to 5,000 steps a day, so if that was double (to the magic 10,000 steps a day) that a person would then, on average, 20% of their caloric intake through this basic activity. Couple this research with the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and a focus of importance on daily physical activity was born.
What furthered the idea that 10000 steps a day was an ideal daily physical activity goal, pedometers were markets under the name “Manpo-kei” in the 1960’s. “Manpo-kei” translates to “10,000 steps meter”.2 (See where this is going?) As pedometers are fairly easy to use (and the Japanese government regulates accuracy too!), they became increasing popular in Japan and nowadays there are a yearly sale of over 7,000,000 devices.2
Fast forward to 2016, where you FitBIt will buzz as you take your 10,000 step (I assume, as I don’t own one, and that is what the article says! ). Wearable tech now incorporates the 10,000 steps a day goal as a default, and with 17.7 million produced in the UK in 20143, that’s a lot of 10,000 step goals! So, is 10,000 steps actually a good goal?
In reality, it all comes down to what you are doing now and what are your fitness goals. A step counter can be a great tool if you are looking to be more active, don’t like traditional exercise, and/or need something to be accountable too. This way, each day before bed you can check your pedometer and see how much you are actually moving and work to increase it each day. For someone already physically active, but has a competitive spirit, it can lead to self-competition or competition with others, as you work to outdo yesterdays total or each other. 10,000 is also a really nice round number and sounds and looks like quite a lot, whereas 4,678 doesn’t quite have the same effect too, so it is also a great mental goal to see when achieve.
But if you are already a very active person, very forgetful, or just don’t like walking, 10,000 steps and pedometers might not be your cup of tea. If you are active already, your goals may need to be adjusted from 10,000 steps as this may not add anything to your daily routine, nor be relevant. Most runners I know judge the run based on time or distance, not on steps taken. Further, some of the gym goers I know wear a FitBit for the heart rate function and the step counter is just a bonus, as not all their cardio and strength training is stepping (think rowers, bikes, or swimming). So for them, the recommendation of 150 minutes of exercise a week makes more sense than 10,000 steps (this goes the same for people who don’t like walking). Lastly, if you forget to wear your wearable technology, it is really hard to keep track of number of steps! So unless you are a person who can reliably wear a pedometer, FitBit/Jawbone, or remember to turn on an app on your phone when you are working out, time may be a better goal then steps.
Overall, 10,000 steps is an arbitrary goal. It has made its way into the fitness word as a slogan, and ended up sticking around for the next around for the next 50+ years. If it is motivating to you, use it! I am all for moving the body and living an active life. If it isn’t your thing, that is fine too! Aim for your 150 minutes of exercise a week, and get your body moving in a different way. Either way, go out and live your healthy active life!
Happy 10,000 stepping!