You’ve probably seen them — moms powerwalking together, college students pacing while listening to podcasts, and people of all ages doing anything they can think of to hit that 10,000-step milestone. Some fitness trackers don’t even consider walking to be exercise until you surpass that marker. But does that number have anything to do with actual health?[related]
The science has spoken: No, it does not.
You’d never have guessed the strange origin of this popularized step count — a Japanese pedometer company. In the 1960s, Y. Hatano marketed the “manpo-kei pedometer” to consumers as one of the first electronic step counters ever to be sold. “Manpo-kei” translates pretty literally to “10,000 step meter,” and the device attracted intrigue from scientists interested in whether or not walking could be of benefit to people’s health.
From then on, most studies conducted on the benefits of walking were done using that 10,000-step marker. But little research was done comparing the benefits of walking 10,000 steps to walking say, 15,000. Or 6,000. Or 20,000.
The 10,000 was based on pure marketing — not a scientific determination of the optimal milestone of movement.
More recent studies, such as this one conducted on Scotland, show that people who walked 15,000 steps each day experienced significant health benefits such as healthy cholesterol levels and a lower risk of heart disease.
But even then, the science is flawed. How fast were those steps taken? Recent research has shown that your heart rate has a more impactful influence on the benefits of your workout than the duration. 10,000 steps done at a sprint is not the same as 10,000 steps at a steady crawl.
So if the 10,000 step goal helps you to get moving every day, more power to you. But if it’s stressing you out or it feels like too much, don’t sweat it. Just do what’s right for you and your body, and leave 10,000 steps behind with these other food and exercise myths you need to stop believing.