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10,000 Steps: Magic Number or Mathematical Myth?

By Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS March 26, 2022 Posted in: Wellness

Step trackers urge us to keep moving, and that’s a good thing. But is 10,000 really the magic number for steps in a day?

First off, where did the number 10,000 come from? The fabled 10,000 steps as a target for daily activity goes back more than 50 years to a Japanese clockmaker who wanted to create a crowd-pleasing gadget for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He decided to mass produce a pedometer and chose the name “Manpo-kei” because the Japanese characters resembled a walking man and translated as “10,000 steps.” Thus began the target for those magical 10,000 steps.

5 Fun Facts about Fitness Trackers

1.) They’re Popular.

One in five US adults (21%) report regularly wearing a smartwatch or fitness tracker, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

2.) Not All Steps Are Created Equal.

It can take around 100 minutes to walk 10,000 steps, which is about five miles. But most of us get our steps throughout the day, not all at once, and not all at the brisk pace which is considered moderate-intensity cardio exercise. What qualifies as brisk depends on your age, level of fitness and heart rate. Generally, a brisk walk causes you to breathe noticeably harder but still be able to speak in full sentences. Before starting any new fitness activity, it’s always a good idea to speak to your primary care provider.

3.) Step Trackers are Not Always Accurate.

Using a computer mouse while sitting can even register as steps. If you’re curious about how far off your steps are, write down your step tally when you sit down, then check it again before getting up. Other tips to get the most accurate step count include:

  • Read the manual when setting up your new fitness tracker.
  • Wear it on your nondominant hand.
  • Make sure it’s tight enough on your wrist that it doesn’t flop around.

4.) Taking Steps Makes a Difference, Especially if You Sit for Several Hours a Day.

Walking more and sitting less resulted in lower body mass index, according to a 2017 study.* Just one or two minutes of walking, every 30 to 60 minutes, can help with obesity and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

5.) No Time for a Long Walk? Don’t Feel Bad About Falling Short.

Even if you come up short of that 10,000-step target, anything is better than nothing. Walking for just 15 minutes per day can reduce all-cause mortality by 10%. It’s a habit that’s good for your physical health, and it’s also been shown to boost your mood. So keep those walking shoes handy.

For more questions, reach out to your Primary Care provider.



Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS
Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS

Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS is a physical therapist at CHI Health specializing in running and gait. Learn more about Run U.

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