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Should You REALLY Take 10,000 Steps Per Day?

by
author image Jess Barron
Jess Barron is head of editorial at LIVESTRONG.COM.She has appeared on MSNBC's "The Most," ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio. Barron's writing has appeared on Wired.com, Yahoo! and Poprocks.com.
Should You REALLY Take 10,000 Steps Per Day?
The trend tied to walking 10,000 daily steps prefaces the Fitbit, Jawbone, and other related step counters. Photo Credit: beer5020/iStock/Getty Images

For some reason, it’s oddly satisfying and feels like a real achievement when your Fitbit or other fitness tracker vibrates to alert you to celebrate that you just reached 10,000 steps.

You may be wondering, why are we all trying to reach this magical 10,000 steps a day anyway? Where did this number come from? Well, the origins of this recommendation is actually traced back to Japan.

Person types on their laptop, wearing a Fitbit.
Person types on their laptop, wearing a Fitbit. Photo Credit: Mark Cacovic/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

Campaign to Combat Obesity

Back in the 1960s, Japan began to achieve a new level of prosperity tied to the post-war era. The country, whose citizens had traditionally been known for keeping a healthy diet and enjoying long-lasting lives, faced a slew of new temptations that led to a rise in obesity. Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, a young professor at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, sought to figure out a way to help his countrymen combat it.

In an effort to help his contemporaries, Dr. Hatano set out to find a way to calculate how many calories were burned during exercise in order to help his contemporaries improve their health by becoming more active. Dr. Hatano’s research discovered that the average person walked 3,500 to 5,000 steps each day. He calculated that if this daily total increased to around 10,000 steps then it might be possible to burn off approximately 500+ extra calories a day, and perhaps lose up to a pound a week. Thus, the 10,000 step regime was born.

The Birth of a New Regime

The 10,000 step regime might have been short-lived except for two key factors:

1. The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games were the first held in Asia, the first of the TV satellite age and the first to be broadcast in color in Japan. This helped focus the public’s attention on fitness and heightened awareness that regular exercise could help prevent hypertension, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

2. The second was the Manpo-kei, a Japanese pedometer invented by watchmaking company Yamasa Tokei and endorsed by Dr. Hatano. In its name, ‘Man’ means ‘10,000,’ ‘po’ means ‘step,’ and ‘kei’ means ‘meter’ or ‘gauge.’ This device hit the market in 1965, with the slogan ‘Let’s all walk 10,000 steps a day!’

Ten thousand is a very auspicious number in Japanese culture, which gave the pedometer a great-sounding name for marketing purposes. The idea resonated with the Japanese public and gained popularity with Japanese walking clubs.

The popularity of the pedometer in Japan has never really waned. Even before today’s surge in sales of high-tech trackers like the Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit Shine and Moove, it wasn’t unusual to find two-three old-school pedometers in every household in Japan with annual sales regularly topping the seven million mark.

As of 2014, by the way, the average life expectancy in Japan is 84 years old -- the highest in the world! The U.S. ranked 34th with the average life expectancy at 78.8 years, according to the CDC.

Walking Rankings Around the World

So now let’s take a look at how Americans are competing against the rest of the world in daily walking and steps. The average U.S. adult walks about 5,117 steps daily. In comparison, the people in the U.K. take 6,322 steps daily. And in Japan, they average 7,168 daily steps. Switzerland tops the list with an average of 9,650 steps daily. (The findings were published in the October issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2010.)

It’s worth noting that it takes the average person 2,000 steps to walk a mile. So should you REALLY take 10,000 steps per day? The choice, as always, is yours to make. If you do choose to do so, now you’ll know that the number is traced to a campaign for better health with scientific data to back it up.

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