10,000 Is A Myth: Here's How Many Steps You Really Need

How many steps should you take each day? 10,000, right? Wrong.

With the explosion of step-tracking devices and an increasing awareness of the importance of physical fitness, people around the world have become fixated on getting enough steps each day. But how many steps, exactly, is “enough”?

Chances are, an answer to that question just popped into your head: 10,000. Ten thousand steps has become the default step goal for millions of people, the go-to answer for what constitutes a healthy level of activity.

Everyone from Dr. Oz to nonprofits to hospitals to online walking communities refer back to this number. Fitbit even sets 10,000 as the default goal for all users! It’s a ubiquitous symbol of health and fitness—but where the heck did it come from?    

The Origin of 10,000 Steps

It might surprise you to hear that the 10,000-steps-a-day advice so many people follow doesn’t come from any scientific studies or fitness research, but rather from a businessman’s clever marketing play!

In the 1960’s, as Japan was gearing up for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, pedometers were becoming extremely popular. Seeking to capitalize on this popularity, a man named Y. Hatano released an early version of a pedometer marketed under the brand name “manpo-kei”, which translates to—you guessed it—“10,000 steps meter.” 

Perhaps because the name was catchy, perhaps because the number was round and easy to remember, or perhaps because Hatano’s company adopted “manpo-kei” as its ever-present business slogan, the phrase caught on among Japanese walking groups…and so did the number. Fifty years later, 10,000 steps has crossed continents and oceans to become the seemingly universal health goal for all.

And despite its dubious origins, 10,000 steps doesn’t appear to be entirely without merit as loose guidance for how much activity to get; according to many doctors and wellness professionals, 10,000 steps a day appears to be a reasonable amount of activity for healthy adults.

But still, it’s not at all scientific, and—more importantly—doesn’t apply to all people.

No Number Fits All

Imagine two people. Both want to increase their activity level, drop some pounds, and shape up. One of them has lived a sedentary life for the past ten years, the other already regularly goes to the gym, walks to work once or twice a week, and ran a 10K about six months ago. Would you put both of them on the same training regimen?

Probably not. For the same reason, while 10,000 steps is a perfect goal for some people, it’s certainly not reasonable or helpful for everyone.

According to researchers from the Department of Exercise and Wellness at Arizona State University, “preliminary evidence suggests that a goal of 10,000 steps/day may not be sustainable for some groups, including older adults and those living with chronic diseases. Another concern about using 10,000 steps as a universal step goal is that it is probably too low for children, an important target population in the war against obesity.”  

Besides those two groups, people whose current activity level is far below or far beyond 10,000 steps will not benefit from hitting that goal. Consider this: in a study, people who increased their walking to 10,000 steps/day experienced health benefits like reduced blood pressure and improved glucose levels. But think about this for a moment—is it more likely those benefits had to do with the magical number 10,000, or the fact that there was an activity increase? Likely the latter. 

Accordingly, if they were already walking more than 10,000 steps, aiming for this goal would not have the same benefit. Dr. Clay Marsh, chief innovation officer at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, summed it up nicely when he said, “any amount of activity that you can do today that you didn’t do yesterday, you’re probably going to start benefitting from it.”

So What’s Your Next Step? (Haha…)

What does this all mean for you? How many steps should you be taking each day? In our newest game, StepBet, we try to answer this question by giving you personalized step goals that take into account your current activity level to help you push yourself, without going too far.

We require that players have a certain amount of step history on their activity tracker before they can join a game, which helps us get a sense of your fitness level and your lifestyle. Since your step history reflects both of these things, our goals are able to fit into your day-to-day without disrupting your lifestyle or leaving you exhausted. Instead, you’ll become aware of where, when, and how you can squeeze in a few extra steps here and there, and make that extra effort to get in a good workout a few days a week.

What’s a challenging and healthy step goal for each person is different. If you’re new to fitness, recently injured, or have a chronic illness, your goals will need to be lower. If you’re already very active or are training for a sport event, you’ll need higher goals so that you continue to challenge yourself. That’s why no two StepBet players have the same goals—and why your own goals will change from game to game as you get fitter and fitter.

Maybe in some game down the line, the numbers will align and your goal will be 10,000 steps. But you’ll know that this number isn’t just pulled from a billboard because it sounds nice—you’ll know that it’s just right for you, in that moment, to help you reach your health and fitness goals.

Ready to find out how many steps you should aim for each day? Download the StepBet app to get your personalized goals, and then join a game to start winning money for being more active!

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Share StepBet with friends! Having more people in the game grows the pot--and makes it even more fun! You can download the app in the iTunes or Google Play app store.