Are you a slave to tracking your 10,000 steps?

10,0000 steps. Magic number or myth?

The number “10,000” dates back to a marketing campaign conducted shortly before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter. It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck.

The concept originated in Japan, as a result of a very successful marketing campaign by the Japanese company Yamasa  which created the world’s first wearable step counter.

Unlike modern trackers, this was a simple pedometer worn around the waist. Yamasa named this pedometer “manpo-kei”, literally translating to “10,000 step-meter”. Aided by the energy of the Olympics, this meter sold like hotcakes.

It’s still unknown why 10,000 was chosen. Some say it’s because the number is considered auspicious in Japan, while others think it is because people prefer round, whole numbers. Still others believe that it helped make the slogan – “let’s walk 10,000 steps a day!” – a catchy marketing phrase.

The person behind the push, Dr Yoshiro Hatano, calculated that the average Japanese step count was between 3,500 – 5,000 steps per day and to burn more calories – and thus promote “health” – 10,000 became the ideal target.

The number stuck and was later carried off to different parts of the world boosting fitness programs based around this daily 5-mile protocol.


Recent Research

Recently, studies have compared the health benefits of 5,000 versus 10,000 steps and, not surprisingly, the higher number is better. But until recently, all the numbers in between hadn’t been studied. Even now they haven’t been comprehensively tested on the general adult population. New research from I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and her team focused on a group of more than 16,000 women in their seventies, comparing the numbers of steps taken each day with the likelihood of dying from any cause (all-cause mortality). Each woman spent a week wearing a device to measure movement during waking hours. Then the researchers waited.

The average step count among survivors was only 5,500 – and incremental gains in steps mattered. Women who took more than 4,000 steps a day were significantly more likely to still be alive than those who did only 2,700 steps. It’s surprising that such a small difference could have consequences for something as critical as longevity.

You might assume the more steps, the better, but only up to 7,500 steps a day! After that number benefits plateaued.



What is not known from this study is how many had pre-existing conditions which may have prevented some from walking as much. In other words, those who died may have walked less because they were already not well and the steps made no difference.


Take-Home Message

While 10,000 steps a day might seem ideal, there is little scientific evidence backing that amount. In fact, studies now show that there is a significant improvement in health markers among those who travel 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day (equating to roughly 30 minutes of exercise), after which gains are marginal.

Of course, even that might not be feasible, so start with something. 10 minutes a day is better than 0 minutes. And if you choose, add more over time. Keep in mind that counting steps might be a detractor for those who simply enjoy walking with no agenda. It may also add undue stress to already stress-filled agendas.

The biggest thing is to do actions that are moving you towards your goal and intended outcome (i.e., better health markers) and that you enjoy doing. You’ll tend to stick with the things that you enjoy and that are moving the needle in the direction you choose.


I work with mid-life men and women who want to feel younger through improving their relationship to food, movement and mindfulness.

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