Many of us track our steps with smart watches, pedometers or phone apps and are of course thrilled when we reach that all-important daily goal of 10,000 steps. With the app I use, green confetti tumbles down the screen in congratulation. The app logs “strikes”, too, challenging me to see how often I can manage a week-long stretch above 10,000 steps a day. Answer: rarely.
There are debates over the accuracy of some step-counters and it’s obvious that they’re a blunt instrument in terms of measuring exercise. If you sprint, your score is no higher than if you dawdle, yet there’s a real difference in terms of benefits to fitness. Still, they do provide a rough guide to how active you’ve been.
If you are going to count steps, the magnitude of your goal matters. Most tracking devices are set to a default goal of 10,000 steps – the famous number that we all know we should reach. You might assume that this number has emerged after years of research to ascertain whether 8,000, 10,000 or maybe 12,000 might be ideal for long-term health. In fact, no such large body of research exists.
The magic number “10,000” dates back to a marketing campaign conducted shortly before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter. It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck.