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“Make sure to get 10,000 steps a day!”

I’m sure you’ve read this or been told this before, but it’s not really rooted in science. Getting 10,000 steps has become a gold standard for healthy living in recent years, but scientists continue to show that there isn’t much validity behind it.

As far as we know today, public interest in step counting has become hugely popular in recent years thanks in part to the rise of the 10k steps per day challenge, as well as smartwatches and fitness apps making it easy to track those steps. However, some may know that the origins date back a bit further.

In 1965, an overwhelmingly successful Japanese marketing campaign was promoting a personal fitness pedometer called the Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” The Japanese character for 10,000 somewhat looks like a person walking, which might explain how the product got its name and number. In other words, it was never actually based on any science at all but was really just a sales strategy.

What does the research actually say?

To this day, there’s little research to support the idea that you need to take 10,000 strides per day to lead a healthy lifestyle. In fact, many studies show that the sweet spot is closer to 5,000-7,000 daily steps for both older and younger adults. It’s important to know this because many influencers and “wellness” gurus continue to promote the 10,000 figure when it was never based on actual data. It was based on financial interests in selling a fitness product one year after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Person walking up stairs, steps for exercise
Many studies show that the sweet spot is closer to 5,000-7,000 daily steps for both older and younger adults. (Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash)

There is a psychological aspect that comes along with this idea that 10,000 steps in necessary for good health. Many people end up getting fixated on hitting the benchmark even when it isn’t feasible, which turns fitness into a stressful experience.

On the flip side, others might think that 10,000 is too big of a number, which may discourage someone from exercising more or make them think that what they’re doing isn’t enough. That’s why it’s important to challenge this fitness myth when it comes up.

At the same time, there are people who love it and can easily achieve this goal every day. There isn’t a problem with wanting to get to 10,000 steps per day, but it’s important for the general public to know that it isn’t a health necessity and that there is actual evidence to support that. It also doesn’t address the idea that fitness can look different for everyone. Exercise should be enjoyable and fun. It can include more than just walking, running, or going to the gym. Soccer, dance classes, biking, and swimming, are all examples of other forms of fitness.

Bottom Line

All steps count. Whether it’s a purposeful walk outside or taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Research actually suggests that getting anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 per day is enough to be health-promoting.

The 10,000 steps per day movement from almost 60 years ago started as a marketing tool and wasn’t actually taken from scientific research. While more movement is generally better, there isn’t a need to fixate on getting this exact number of steps in every day. Exercise can look different for everyone, and the focus should be on doing things you enjoy in order to keep things fun and consistent while aiding you and your health goals.

About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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