10,000 Steps: The Reason Behind the Number

July 15, 2021

10,000 Steps: The Reason Behind the Number

woman checking fitness tracker

Have you ever wondered where that elusive 10,000-step number came from or how many steps are right for you? Fitness trackers are more popular than ever and step tracking is gaining popularity.  In the physical therapy department I have many patients every month ask me about walking goals so let’s tackle the question.

The 10,000 steps goal started as a very arbitrary marketing promotion by a company in Japan at the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. They created a type of pedometer that literally translated to “10,000 step meter.”  Since then, there has been a lot of research that says 10,000 steps is a very attainable and realistic challenge for the average adult. The average person takes about 2,000 steps per mile; so 10,000 steps per day is roughly equivalent to five miles of walking.

Create a Baseline

More importantly, you should understand from where you are starting. Track your daily steps from the time you get up until you go to bed using a pedometer. Do this for a week. Take an average of those days to determine your baseline.

  • 2,000-3,000 steps per day = sedentary.
  • 4,000-7,500 steps per day = somewhat active
  • 10,000 steps per day = active
  • >12,500 steps per day = highly active.

Create Goals

Once you establish your baseline, consider trying to increase your steps by 500 each day for a week.  Each week try to add another 500 steps per day until you reach your goal. Reaching 10,000 is a great goal, but it is not a magic number for everyone. The United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom all suggest that around 8,000 steps/day is considered moderately active. But the overriding goal is to MOVE MORE and keep moving more. There has been no number of steps that has been shown to be detrimental.

A recent study by Dr. J. Hill at the University of Colorado suggests that if you can increase your baseline steps by 2,000 steps per day that you will prevent weight gain. Taking 2,000 steps per day is roughly an additional 30 minutes of walking. Increasing steps beyond that can result in weight loss!

Find Motivation

Now you just need to decide what motivates you. A few suggestions include:  finding a buddy, walking your dog an extra time each day, walking to nearby errands, or having a contest with a friend or family member. If you like the idea of the Fitbit or other tracking device, go for it!  You can also join several online walking programs. “Walk of Life 10 Week program” offers a newsletter, regular lessons, nutrition and recipe tips, along with an online community forum.  Another free website is “America on the Move,” which offers a way to chart your steps and track your progress.

If you have questions or concerns, connect with a local physical therapist to help set up a plan that is right for you to prevent injury and help you meet your goals! Let’s get stepping!