What You Should Know About The 10,000 Steps-a-Day Goal


People are often surprised to find out how many health recommendations that they have been faithfully keeping for years are unfortunately just guidelines rather than proven rules. And now with the advent of wearable activity trackers and the general push for healthier living, more and more people are focusing on a new healthy guideline: reaching 10,000 steps every day.

But where did this number come from? Does it actually have merit?

The Power of Marketing

Historically, the health and fitness industry always experiences a surge in popularity around the Olympics – since people become more interested in athletics and are inspired to be more active. For the 1964 games – held in Tokyo, Japan – one company began to market a pedometer called the manpo-kei or the “10,000 Step Meter.”

While the man behind the manpo-kei officially reported the guideline of 10,000 steps was reached after careful research that showed the number to be the perfect balance of caloric burn and intake – modern science has sort of disproved this concept. How?

Highly Individual

For one thing, caloric expenditure is a highly individualized number that’s really the result of age, gender, fitness level, body composition, diet, health conditions, and a whole host of other factors – things that a pedometer simply does not call into account.

And then there’s the fact that the 10,000 step goal is just a really high number. Depending on height and stride-length, this equates to roughly 5 miles each day, with no concern to speed – meaning that this distance can be covered as a walk or run or any combination. To put that into perspective, the average American clocks a modest 5,000 steps each day. Additionally, the Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans sets 150 minutes of activity per day (or about 7,500 steps) as the goal.

So while 10,000 steps (or more) certainly won’t do any harm, it’s not some magic number.

Gradual Improvements

If you’re like most people and your daily step count is much lower than the mythic 10,000/day, what can you do? Depending on your situation, you might be able to just jump into it and simply squeeze more activity into your day.

However, if you have a tight schedule or a condition that limits your activity, this could be more challenging. Instead of diving straight in, try to gradually work your way up. To start, use a pedometer to track your steps on a typical day and then try to add about 1,000 steps every day. Typically, this means just about five minutes of extra activity each day. Considering the recent research regarding the dangers of sitting for several hours straight, this could also be a perfect way to incorporate activity breaks into your regular routine.