What’s the Big Deal with 10,000 Steps Anyway?

Walking Series #5

My son got himself a fitness tracker recently and he and I like to challenge each other to see who gets more steps each day. Our routine sounds a little like this:

Son: “How many steps did you get today, Mom?”

Me: “A lot! Like almost 10,000. I was all over the place today. How about you?”

Son: “Hold on, I have to check.” (he knows full well how many he has BTW…). He runs out the door and around the house a few times to make sure he gets more steps than I have and returns a few minutes later.” OK Mom, I got 10,500!”

I absolutely love that he’s so competitive and wants to exercise more than me, but after a few weeks of this I wanted to know where exactly the 10,000 steps thing come from anyway?


 According to my research, as the Japanese were preparing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, there was an increased interest in physical fitness among the general Japanese public. Walking, the most accessible form of exercise available to most people, became more associated with health, and Japanese walking clubs became popular. A steps counter named “Manpo-Kei,” which literally means 10,000 steps meter, came onto the market using “Lets walk 10,000 steps a day” as their marketing slogan, and this quickly became the rallying cry for walking clubs all over the country.  I’d say this was an effective marketing campaign as forty plus years later and several continents away, my son and I refer to it daily.

Sticky slogan but does it have any validity?  

This depends on your goal. Harvard School of Public Health Professor Min Lee Chin conducted research on more than 16,000 women to see if there was a positive impact on mortality rates associated with walking and if so, at what distance. She found that at “4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women.” Further, she found, as the women walked more, their mortality continued to decrease until it leveled off at about 7,500 steps a day.  Hitting 10,000 steps didn’t benefit the mortality rates of the women significantly.

On the other hand, research suggests that to lose significant weight, 10,000 steps may help a lot. While less than 10,000 steps may offer plenty of health benefits, walking an extra 2-3 miles at a brisk pace every day will burn extra calories and can help you lose extra pounds. 

What’s the bottom line? 

So, is 10,000 steps a magic number? I can’t find the data to prove it.  My takeaway? More is more. Shoot for more when you can but don’t get distracted by the number. Any amount of additional walking you can get into your day will benefit you in multiple ways.  Just make sure you get more than your competitive 14-year old!