10,000 Steps A Day: Where Did This Magic Number Come From? Does It Work?

You might have heard someone recommending 10,000 steps a day. But, what is the science behind it?

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahPublished at: Feb 24, 2022Updated at: Feb 24, 2022
10,000 Steps A Day: Where Did This Magic Number Come From? Does It Work?

Whether you are into fitness or trying to lose weight or fall in neither of these categories, you might have come across the 10,000 steps a day trend. This magic number has inspired multiple fitness gadgets and apps. But what is behind this specific number that everyone seems to be following around? Why did it become such a trend? And what happens if you walk fewer or more steps than that? In this article, we will explore the history behind this phenomenon. Along with that, we will also look into what research says about it? Is 10,000 a magic number, or is there no meat to it? 

History Behind Walking 10,000 Steps A Day

At the face of it, it appears that walking 10,000 steps a day might be the brainchild of a scientist or a health expert. However, you might be surprised to know that it was the work of neither but a Japanese company. The idea of 10,000 steps a day goes back to 1965 when a Japanese company came up with a device. It was named ‘Manpo-kei’, which means 10,000 steps meter. Although it was a marketing strategy, according to a researcher at Harvard Health, the idea soon caught up. Many companies came up with step-counting devices with 10,000 as the default number. Many smartphone applications came up with the same idea. Hence, without any scientific backing, this corporate idea soon became a trend. About six decades since its inception, it is still being followed by many. So, we have seen the background of this trend let us now see whether science backs.

Also read: Walking Vs Running: Which One Is Better?

Research On Walking 10,000 Steps A Day

Walking 10,000 steps a day

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

Since its inception, multiple studies were done into the benefits of 10,000 steps a day. Let us look at what two of them found out:

Study 1

This one is a recent study published in the journal ‘JAMA Network Open’ in 2021. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts. They observed 2,110 middle-aged adults for 11 years, beginning from 2005 or 2006. They all wore a step-counting fitness device. Here is what the study found out:

  • Firstly, exercising is good for health. Hence, if you walk 3,000 steps, it will be better than 2,000. Similarly, 5,000 will be better than 4,000. Walking is a great exercise that is good for health.
  • However, there is nothing magical about the figure 10,000. Researchers found beyond a certain number, a person reaps no significant benefits. 
  • Healthwise, 7,000 steps were found to be a significant number.
  • Walking that many steps slashed a participant’s chances of dying prematurely by 50 to 70%, the researchers found.

The study’s lead author Amanda Paluch commented that instead of 10,000; 7,000 steps is a “great goal” for those who aren’t getting enough exercise. Hence, if you are working on your health and missing out on the 10,000 mark, targeting 7,000 steps might work better for you.

Study 2

Walking has many benefits

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

The first study didn’t find anything magical about the figure 10,000. Another study was done by researchers at Harvard Medical School. It was published in the journal JAMA Network in 2019. The researchers aimed to know how many steps were linked to lowering the mortality rate. They also studied whether increasing the intensity while walking the same number of steps had any impact on mortality. For this study, the researchers observed older women, between the ages of 62 to 101. There were as many as 16,741 participants with an average age of 72. The participants wore tracking devices called accelerometers and were observed for about four years, from 2011 to 2015. Here is what the study found out:

  • The women who led a sedentary lifestyle walked an average of 2,700 steps a day.
  • Those who walked about 4,400 steps a day saw a reduction in mortality by 41%.
  • The mortality rate dipped with the increasing number of steps.
  • The scientists observed an inflection point at 7,500 steps. (A similar observation was made in study 1)
  • Regarding mortality, the more active group saw nine fewer deaths per 1,000 compared to those who were comparatively inactive.

What Can We Infer?

Here are is what we can conclude from the two studies:

  • The number of steps had a direct impact on mortality. With an increase in the number of steps, the mortality rate saw a drop.
  • 7,000 to 7,5000 steps a day can be considered an ideal number, which is 25% less than the 10,000 steps a day idea.
  • Beyond a certain number of steps, no significant health benefits were observed.

Hence, the number of steps we walk in a day has a direct impact on our risk of dying. However, neither of the studies didn’t look into the steps concerning the improvement in the quality of life. As one ages, the person undergoes a cognitive decline. He also gets prone to several health diseases. Neither of the studies commented on whether cognitive performance improves or stays the same when walking more. The study didn’t comment on health issues either. 

Other Things To Note

Walking is good for health

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

When it comes to physical activity, there are other aspects you must consider:

  • For exercising, the duration is often recommended, not the amount. Experts generally advise 150 minutes of exercise in a week. You can get it anyway, either by walking, swimming, cycling, playing a sport, doing yoga, or any activity of your choice.
  • Also, 7,000 or 10,000; it’s better to look at it from your health’s point of view, not as a walking goal. Hence, if you are physically inactive, starting with just 3,000 steps a day will be good for you. You can eventually build upon it to reach whatever steps goal you set for yourself.
  • Also, walking is a great exercise. However, it isn’t necessary to set a time and place for it. You can make simple tweaks in your daily life to reach the requisite number. Some strategies include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to a nearby place instead of driving there, taking short walking breaks in between, etc.

Benefits Of Walking

When you make walking a part of your workout routine, there are several benefits you reap, such as:

  • Walking helps you lose and manage weight.
  • Walking boosts your heart health. 
  • It also slashes your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Walking is a good exercise for managing serious conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol level.
  • It is good for bone health.
  • It makes your muscles stronger.
  • Walking also boosts the immune system, according to Harvard Health. Hence, it can help in protecting you from cold, flu, etc.

There are many benefits when it comes to walking. It helps you lose weight, is good for your heart and bone health. Most importantly, it reduces your risk of dying. However, knowing about benefits cannot prompt someone much into including that activity in your lifestyle. However, there are ways you can make it a habit. Just including it in your everyday life, such as taking the stairs and choosing walking over driving can be helpful. Other than that, if you listen to music or a podcast while walking, it can make the whole process more enjoyable. You can also download apps that tap your number of steps, calories burnt, etc. Reaching a set goal can motivate you for prioritising fitness. Being a member of a walking group can also help you to make it a habit. Hence, walk whatever steps you want towards better health. 

Photo Credit: Freepik