Debunking the 10,000 Step Myth (and how much you should really move)

How many steps do you get every day? If you’ve been told to aim for 10,000, you might be shooting higher than you need to. Let’s take a deeper look at the origins of the 10,000 step rule, the benefits of walking, and how much you should really move in order to live a healthy lifestyle. 


Where did the 10,000 step rule come from? 


The origins of the 10,000 step rule can be traced back to Japan in the 1960’s, when Dr. Hatano at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare conducted a study that determined most Japanese people were taking between 3,500 and 5,000 steps every single day. The study concluded that increasing this number to 10,000 a day could decrease the risk of heart disease. More movement = a healthier heart. 


In response to Dr. Hatano’s study and in the spirit of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, an early iteration of the modern pedometer called the “manpo-kei,” or the “10,000 step meter” was released in 1965 and established the precedent for the number of steps healthy individuals should be taking every day. With the athletic spirit of the Olympics and plenty of chatter about health and fitness in the air, the pedometer was enormously popular and started global conversations about how many steps a healthy adult should be taking each day. 

Why 10,000? 


The short answer? It’s a nice, round number to remember. There’s no shortage of speculation as to why 10,000 was the agreed upon number, but very little of the research conducted at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare seems to have stable scientific backing around the specificity of 10,000. Some theorize that the Japanese symbol for 10,000 looks like a person walking, others suspect that it’s because the number holds significance in Japanese culture, but one thing’s for sure: whatever the reason behind 10,000 steps, the number definitely stuck. As pedometers rose to popularity, and later Fitbits and Apple Watches in the 2000s and 2010s, phrases like “getting your steps in” and “closing your rings” started creeping into daily conversations as they pertained to reaching a goal of 10,000 steps in a 24 hour period. 

How many steps do I actually need per day? 


To help fight bone loss and muscle atrophy, staying out of a sedentary lifestyle (fewer than 5,000 steps a day) is the best bet for most mobile adults. 

Most research indicates that adults under 60 who get anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500 steps a day are at a lower risk for heart disease, depression, and a host of other benefits that impact our health and happiness. It is, however, important to remember that correlation does not always imply causation; the existing research cannot confirm that people are healthier as a result of increased steps. It could very well be that healthier people just tend to walk more. 

Regardless of exact step counts, there’s one thing we know for certain: consistent movement is key, whether you’re walking, running, weight lifting, or playing a sport. Shooting for at least 5,000 steps a day is a good, healthy goal if you’re looking to incorporate more consistent daily movement into your life (and if you’re trying to keep your XPASS streak), but reaching a certain step count isn’t the end all be all when it comes to staying healthy and active.  



How many steps/day are enough? for adults

Watch your step: why the 10,000 daily goal is built on bad science

Daily step count and all-cause mortality in a sample of Japanese elderly people: a cohort study