Do we need 10K steps a day? Shocking truth and origin of daily goal

Today app with exercise and step counting statistics on Fitbit Sense health tracking smart watch wearable device, San Ramon, California, September 22, 2020.
Walking 10,000 steps has even become a trend on TikTok.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Anyone who has a fitness tracker knows 10,000 steps per day is touted as the pinnacle of health.

That magical number of steps has been linked to a wide variety of health benefits, such as weight loss and lowered risks of cancer, dementia and heart disease. Walking 10,000 steps has even become a trend on TikTok, thanks to an exercise routine called the Hot Girl Walk.

But where did this number come from? The true origin may surprise you.

Hint: it doesn’t come from research or science.

Tom Yates, professor of physical activity and sedentary behavior at the UK’s University of Leicester, told the Daily Mail that “there was no evidence for it to start with.”

Shortly before the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, there was a lot of attention on fitness in Japan, and many local companies tried to profit off the hype.

Advert for the Manpo-Kei pedometer, 1964 - Anyone who has a fitness tracker knows 10,000 steps per day is touted as the pinnacle of health.
A 1964 ad for the Manpo-Kei pedometer.

Yamasa invented a marketing ploy to sell a pedometer called the Manpo-Kei — which literally translates to “10,000 steps meter.” Some even believe the company chose this name simply because the Japanese character for 10,000, 万, looks similar to a walking man.

There was no actual reasoning behind the number other than that it was a round, memorable number that looks nice. The company didn’t have any scientific evidence to back it up, they just wanted to sell their product — and they unknowingly influenced the fitness industry for years to come.

Whether or not people really need to walk 10,000 steps per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle has been the subject of many studies, and it’s been proven to be a good target. However, until recently, studies have only been done on the effects of 5,000 steps and 10,000 steps — never in between.

One major study released in March debunked the 10,000-step goal, suggesting that anywhere between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day is just enough, and anything more than 8,000 doesn’t actually count in terms of health benefits.

Sporty woman working out by running up urban stairs and monitoring heart rate on smartwatch
Whether or not people really need to walk 10,000 steps per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle has been the subject of many studies.
Getty Images

Another recent study suggested that the pace at which one walks might be more important than step count. Experts in Denmark and Australia concluded that 10,000 steps per day might not be necessary if you walk quickly.

“Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps,” said University of Sydney professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior author of the study and a public health expert.

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