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10,000 Steps a Day: What’s in the Magic Number?

If you’re one of the many to own a wearable fitness tracker, then you’re more than likely familiar with the 10,000 steps a day goal. But where did this number come from?

Surprisingly it didn’t originate from science but in fact from a marketing campaign by the Yasama Corporation upon the launch of a pedometer in tandem with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The reasoning for the number is thought to be linked to the Japanese character for 10,000, which resembles a person walking. They named the pedometer “manpo-kei'' which translates roughly to “10,000-step meter.” 

Why 10,000 Steps a Day?

JAMA Internal Medicine published a study tracking over 16,500 women between the ages of 62 and 101, to assess the correlation between mortality rates and the number of steps taken daily. The study found that among older women, as few as 4,400 steps corresponded to lower mortality rates as opposed to 2,700 steps.

The greater the number of steps taken per day, the lower the mortality rates, which levelled at around 7,500 steps. The study notes that there is limited scientific evidence to suggest that aiming for 10,000 steps a day has a notable impact, therefore suggesting that merely upping our daily step count a little may be enough to reap the health benefits. 

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ Guidelines recommend that adults exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity a week. Translated into step count, this works out at around 16,000 steps a week of exercise for most people, or 2,000 to 3,000 steps most days.

If we take around 5,000 steps a day through daily activities such as housework or running errands, this would take us to around 7,000 or 8,000 steps a day as opposed to 10,000. 

But is it Realistic? 

A study carried out by The Department of Movement and Sports Science at Ghent University in Belgium aimed to determine whether 10,000 steps a day really improved health and wellbeing.

From 2005 to 2006, participants aimed for 10,000 steps a day, tracking their progress via pedometers, questionnaires and an activity log. Some participants were at risk of chronic diabetes, whilst others were looking to improve their general wellbeing.

Almost half of the participants managed to complete the challenge successfully and felt an overall improvement in wellbeing. However, when researchers followed up with the participants four years later, they found a notable decrease in step count.

Whilst the decrease in steps can be attributed partly to aging, it was found that the lack of socio-ecological interventions, such as a feeling of community, reduced motivation among participants.

Similarly, a 2017 study on British teenagers, analyzing the motivational impact of wearable lifestyle technologies, found that whilst 13 and 14-year-olds initially enjoyed the novelty of the target of 10,000 steps, they soon found it difficult to maintain and noted that it wasn’t a fair number to aim for. 

How Many Steps Should You Do a Day?

While it turns out that 10,000 might not be the magic number after all, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim high. Walking has brilliant benefits for both our mental and physical health.

According to Michael A. Schwartz, MD, of Plancher Orthopedics & Sports Medicine New York, walking can stop the loss of bone mass for those with osteoporosis.

Research has also shown walking to promote the release of endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve mood. So, don’t stress if 10,000 isn’t achievable, but do keep striving to get those steps in. 

Step count in style in our Athleisure Club Sweatpants.