Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

10,000 Steps a Day - Really?

There is a lot of hype about reaching a goal of 10,000 steps which translates to about 5 miles for most individuals in a day - easily trackable if you are using a smartphone app or wearable fitness tracker. The average American walks around 3000 to 6000 steps a day. Now, although it is a good goal, it may be unrealistic due to time constraints related to schedule or perhaps physical incapacity such as arthritis.

There is no real scientific basis why 10,0000 steps is recommended. So how did this number come about? In the mid 1960s, a Japanese clock company created a marketing campaign for a pedometer called the Manpo-kei(which translates to 10,000 steps). The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games had awakened health consciousness and coupled with an obesity epidemic, it was felt this waist step counter would decrease chronic illnesses such as obesity and heart disease. Interesting enough, the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a person walking also.

What we do know is that with increased activity, there is an overall decrease in chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. It is good to use a step goal to motivate you to do better every day to increase your activity, be it parking a little bit further at the grocery store, taking an evening walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or getting in a more intense work out.

Dr. I-Min Lee and her colleagues studied the validity of 10,000 steps which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine:

In this cohort study of 16 741 women with a mean age of 72 years, steps per day were measured over 7 days. Women who averaged approximately 4400 steps/d had significantly lower mortality rates during a follow-up of 4.3 years compared with the least active women who took approximately 2700 steps/d; as more steps per day were accrued, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7500 Step

It is important, especially in the elderly population that we encourage whatever activity and step count they can accomplish because the benefit is clearly evident at a lower step count. If you are on a weight loss journey, then 10,000 steps is a good goal - reaching a 10,000 step goal is an excellent step towards achieving this.

Walking is a good exercise which does not require any special equipment except a good pair of shoes. However, keep in mind your own individual goals and health, try your best and don’t overdo it! 10,000 steps sounds like a nice goal, but each person has to take their individual goals and health in mind. More than the 10,000 step goal, the real goal should be trying your best each day to get in a little bit more activity in a way that is enjoyable to you.