The Myth of 10,000 Steps

The 10,000 steps a day goal began as a successful marketing tool.

The exercise goal of ten thousand steps a day is not a magical number. Walking is a wonderful way to improve health, especially for more mature adults. 10,000 steps/day is a marvelous long-term goal, but most people average around 2,500 steps a day going about their normal lives. So adding 2,000 steps to that total is a very achievable goal. More steps per day is associated with lower mortality rates (see below). Moving more is better. But setting the bar too high though can lead to disappointment and a sense of defeat.

Many types of fitness tracking gear default to a daily goal of 10,000 steps. It has even been shown that some goal-oriented people feel less healthy if they do not reach that arbitrary daily number of steps. Regular exercise is undoubtedly beneficial. Especially during this pandemic crisis, it is critical to stay healthy, and exercise plays a big part in overall wellness. However, there is no proof that crossing the 10,000 step finish line every day is a cure-all. First, let’s take a look at the 10,000 step goal.

First Steps

I walk around 15 miles a week on the beach. I don’t wear a device to measure my steps. I prefer a more natural method to measure my overall steps. I used my car’s odometer, and measured on Google Maps the distance of my usual walk. The average person’s stride is between 2 to 2.5 feet. That would give a rough estimate of 2,000 steps in a mile. This adds up to around 30,000 steps a week on the beach and another 15,000 or so from going about my normal day. This means I average around roughly six thousand steps a day. To a guy my age, that is a pretty good number. I have felt a great improvement in my well-being since I began increasing my steps. What are the origins of the 10,000/day fitness target?

Pedometers were invented in the late 1700s originally as a method for a self-winding watch. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that they gained widespread use as a fitness tool. In 1965, the Japanese clock making company Yamasa Tokei Keiki, invented the pedometer. At the time, they used research from a Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, who found Japanese people were becoming more sedentary and only walking around 2,200 – 2,500 steps a day.

The company set the goal at 10,000 steps and named their product 万歩計 manpokei translates as “10,000 step meter”. Due to the overwhelming success of pedometers, the Japanese word for “pedometer” is 万歩計 manpokei. And so the use of pedometers spread around the world and the ten thousand steps a day goal was established.

Wearing your health on your sleeve, wrist or around your waist

It has been estimated, that over 500 million fitness trackers, so-called wearables, have been sold worldwide. To some, these personal high-tech augmentations provide a convenient way to self-monitor their fitness efforts. But to others they become a negative feedback burden that constantly reminds them they are falling behind on their goals. If used properly, these devices can be real motivators like a wearable exercise buddy. But to keep from becoming a slave to a digital gadget, a balance must be found when establishing a goal and setting about to achieve that goal.

Taking Steps for Improved Health

Ten thousand daily steps became a benchmark for many reasons: because of the way research studies are structured, the media finds it convenient to use, it’s easy to remember, etc. Fundamentally 10,000 is simply a count and not a cure.

An average walker takes around 2,000 -2,500 steps per mile. You can maximize the health benefits by varying your walking cadence. Maintaining a brisk pace for thirty minutes increases the overall benefits to your cardiovascular system. Researchers call your average pace over a half hour walk – peak stepping cadence. And the peak 1-minute cadence is the fastest one minute pace over the course of a thirty-minute walk. You can look up these terms to learn more about calculating your peaks.

“U.S. adults average a peak 30-minute cadence of 71.1 (men: 73.7, women: 69.6, P < .0001) steps/min and a peak 1-minute cadence of 100.7 (men: 100.9, women: 100.5, P = .54) steps/min. Both peak cadence indicators displayed significant and consistent declines with age and increasing levels of obesity.” (Source)

More steps taken per day are associated with lower mortality rates until approximately 7500 steps/d. According to the results of a study of 16,741 women with a mean age of 72 years by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and published in the Journal of the American Association, women who averaged 4,400 steps/d had significantly lower mortality rates. As more steps per day were accrued, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7500 steps/d.

The authors concluded, “These findings may serve as encouragement to the many sedentary individuals for whom 10 000 steps/d pose an unattainable goal.”

Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women, May 2019

How Fast?

According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “A cadence value of ≥100 steps/min in adults appears to be a consistent and reasonable heuristic answer to ’How fast is fast enough?’ during sustained and rhythmic ambulatory behavior.”

Take a Walk Today

Walking is beneficial whatever your goal – weight loss, cardiovascular, pulmonary, meditation, or overall wellness. Get out there and walk. Make the time. Find the place. Set your pace. And Get Stepping.

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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