If you are walking around with a fitness tracker on your wrist to count your daily steps, chances are you have a goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day to keep up an active and healthy lifestyle. My Fitbit likes to celebrate that magic number with fireworks. And I’ve got to admit, I enjoy the gesture.
But where did this 10,000 step goal come from? Is it rooted in science? And if it’s bogus, what should your daily step goal be?
It’s Not A Magic Number, It’s A Marketing Gimmick
Dr. I-Min Lee—a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health—said that the 10,000 daily step goal has zero scientific basis. Instead, according to the New York Times, that target became popular thanks to a Japanese clockmaker and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
To capitalize on the interest in fitness after the summer games, the clockmaker mass-produced a pedometer. It had a name that translated to “10,000 steps meter.” And when written in Japanese characters, the name of the pedometer resembled a walking man.
This is the origin story of the 10,000 daily step target. And this is why that goal has become so popular around the globe throughout numerous generations.
A Recent Study Found A Lower Target
According to a 2021 study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and published by the JAMA Network, 10,000 steps per day aren’t necessary for longevity. Instead, they found that 7,000 steps per day lowered the risk of all-cause mortality by 50 to 70 percent among middle-aged adults aged 41-65.
“This cohort study among Black and white men and women found that taking at least 7000 steps/day during middle adulthood was associated with a lower risk of mortality,” the study authors wrote.
This isn’t the first study to suggest that we don’t need to walk nearly as much as we thought for the sake of our health or longevity. A 2019 study found that women in their 70s reduced their risk of premature death by about 40 percent with as few as 4,400 steps per day.
There were even more health benefits for women who walked between 5,000 and 7,500 steps per day. But the benefits plateaued after the 7,500 mark. And, a 2020 study found that 7,500 to 8,000 steps per day seems to be the sweet spot for middle-aged men and women, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Considering that most adults in Western nations average fewer than 5,000 steps per day, that 10,000 step goal was a bit unrealistic. The good news is, it wasn’t a magic number to begin with.