Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps Every Day? Probably Not

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Find any gathering of adults, and I can almost guarantee that the question, “So which tracker do you use?” will come up. Tracking steps 10,000 steps every day is as ubiquitous as those 80 Starbucks you find on half the corners in your city. For the record, I wear a Garmin Forerunner 235 and drink venti, unsweetened iced coffees with soy milk.

But tracking your steps can become an obsession, and admittedly thinking about my step count takes up a pretty large chunk of my daily brain space. So why are we all so focused on squeezing in 10,000 steps every day? In short, marketing.

Don’t blame Fitbit.

Before we all start blaming Fitbit for this phenomenon, we need to look a lot further back than 2007. Instead, let’s transport ourselves back to 1964, when Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics. A short while before the games started, the researcher Dr. Yoshiro Hatano and his team determined that the average person in Japan only walked between 3,500 to 5,000 steps in a single day.

The team decided that raising the daily step count goal to 10,000 would make people healthier. Finding a way to get people obsessed with those 10,000 would also earn them some serious bank.

And thus the Manpo-kei step tracker was born.

The Manpo-kei hit the Japanese market ahead of the 1964 Olympics. The name is simple and straight to the point about its purpose. In Japanese, man means 10,000, po is the counter for steps, and kei is meter or measuring device.

Should we actually aim for 10,000 steps?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans should aim for around 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day. Japan’s Ministry of Health recommends a slightly higher daily step count, encouraging Japanese citizens to take between 8,000 and 10,000 steps. Ideally, we should all be up and moving about during the day.

However, stressing out over 10,000 steps maybe isn’t worth it. A study from I-Min Lee at Harvard Medical found that women between the ages of 70 and 79 who took an average of 5,500 daily steps were much less likely to die for any reason. Even women who took only 4,000 steps had a higher risk of surviving over a five-year period than women who averaged only 2,700 steps. Any changes in life expectancy stopped at 7,500 steps.

Do what works best for you.

The conclusion? Maybe you don’t need those full 10,000 steps every day. To get the health benefits you want, hitting a lower number of daily steps could be just as effective. Still, if shooting for a double-digit step counts gets you up and moving, then keep doing what you’re doing. Maybe just don’t feel guilty when you fall short of your goal.

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