How 10,000 steps became a standard goal.


If you’ve walked outside in the past year or two, you know that fitness trackers are all the rage. These little bands track anything from steps to calories to sleeping patterns. If you have one yourself, you may know that a common goal is 10,000 steps per day. But where, exactly, did that number come from?

The scale:

Sedentary lifestyle: <5,000 steps per day

Low active: 5,000-7,499 steps per day

Somewhat active: 7,500-9,999 steps per day

Active: ≥10,000 steps per day

Highly active >12,500 steps per day

Actually, 10,000 steps has some not-so-scientific origins. A small pedometer became popular in the 1960s in Japan called a “Manpo-kei” or “10,000 steps meter.”  Our now widely-accepted goal of 10,000 steps actually came about for a marketing purposes to sell pedometers over fifty years ago!

That being said, science has started to catch up with this marketing strategy. Studies have been conducted to discover whether or not this trending goal is actually as healthful as we hope.

This study found that while 10,000 steps had minimal changes on BMI, it had marginal effects on other aspects of your health. By walking 10,000 steps or more each day, participants experienced a decrease in blood pressure and increased exercise capacity. Another study actually did see weight loss over a 36-week period in previously sedentary, overweight, or obese adults.

This study found that individuals who accumulated 10,000 or more steps per day were more likely to meet the current physical activity guidelines promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the U.S. Surgeon General. It also revealed that it doesn’t guarantee meeting the guidelines for how long you should work out to reap significant health benefits, but we’ll take it as a step in the right direction.

This study found that on average, participants experienced a significant decrease in BMI, waist circumference, and resting heart rate. This study found that daily walking (measured at 10,000 steps) can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce body weight.

The takeaway? 10,000 steps may not be a one-size-fits-all. So why is it used? Because just like in this study, it’s been proven to increase physical activity. Because at the end of the day, our real goal is not 10,000 steps. Our real goal is to improve. Let’s move a little bit more, walk a little bit more, eat a little bit healthier, and get a little more fit with every action we take.

If you’re just starting out and are averaging 500-1,000 steps per day, no one expects 10,000 tomorrow, and neither should you. Just focus on one day at a time, and try to be a little better than you were yesterday. Progress as slowly as you need to, but always keep moving towards your goal. If this week you averaged 1,000 steps, next week, shoot for 1,500 steps. Little by little, we’ll reach our health and fitness goals together!

Emily Wiley
iFit Trainer

WARNING: This post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. iFit assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.