If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ve tried using any type of pedometer or smartphone-based activity tracking app over the past few years (or even if you’ve just flirted with the idea of buying one and done a little research), the number 10,000 probably has some meaning to you. Why? It’s the number of steps that many fitness fans (and some experts, too) say are necessary for an adult to stay healthy. But what’s so special about the number 10,000? And where did it actually come from?
In some ways, 10,000 is just an accident of history. It’s like the number 8 when we’re talking about sleep or the number 2,000 when we’re talking about the daily calorie requirement of the “average” adult. According to Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the history of the 10,000-step recommendation goes all the way back to the 1960s and a marketing campaign by pedometer manufacturers in Japan. They used the name “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter” and the idea just stuck in the public consciousness. Not very scientific…
10,000 steps isn’t the “official” guidance from the US public health establishment. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that Americans engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week to stay healthy. For most people, that’s equal to somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 steps per day. So the CDC doesn’t actually set the bar as high as 10,000 steps. And it’s also true that this guidance doesn’t necessarily translate well to children, who tend to get their exercise in lots of different ways that may be more difficult to measure.
But all of this is NOT to say that then number 10,000 doesn’t make some sense, or that people who DO take 10,000 steps a day aren’t doing something very good for their health and well-being. The average adult in the U.S. takes about 5,900 steps per day, so 10,000 steps (around 5 miles) is a pretty big jump. Unless you have a very active lifestyle or do something physically demanding for a living, you probably won’t reach 10,000 steps on any given day without putting some thought and effort into it. But it’s definitely worth it. Large-scale research has documented real benefits in terms of preventing many chronic diseases. One recent study by researchers at the Life Sciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that walking decreased high blood pressure risk by 7.2%, high cholesterol risk by 7%, diabetes risk by 12.3% and cardiovascular heart disease by 9.3%.* And the more someone walked, the greater the benefits were!
In terms of improving your own health, the key is simply to start doing more than you’re doing right now, whether that’s 5,000 steps, 10,000 steps or 15,000 steps. Want to do something really good for yourself? Get off the couch, turn off the TV and start walking. You’ll be glad you did!