This is Your Body on 10,000 Steps a Day

If you polled the audience 20 years ago on how many steps people should get a day, they'd probably have to phone a friend. Not anymore. With the rise of fitness trackers came daily step goals, 10,000 of them in fact. But why 10,000? Is it just a random number? Is there a one step fits all when it comes to health and weight loss goals?

The answer may surprise you.

Origin of the 10,000 Steps Per Day Goal

While manufacturers of fitness trackers might very well be responsible for the current 10,000-step fad, the concept traces back to Japan in the 1960s. While the Tokyo Olympics was happening, locals started thinking about their own fitness goals. Soon after, the first pedometer, called the manpo-meter, was born.

Manpo means 10,000 steps in Japanese. It’s thought that the number 10,000 was chosen because of its exalted status in Japanese culture, not necessarily because it's the magic number for health. I know, I was disappointed too.

Science Weighs in on Just How Many Daily Steps You Need

So what does science say? There’s been plenty of research that proves 10,000 steps a day - which equals about five miles - is good for your overall health. This study shows 10,000 steps a day is linked to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular performance. Let's break it down a bit.

Research shows fewer than 5,000 steps per day equals a sedentary lifestyle and there's nothing good about that. Adding 3,000 steps (total of 8,000) lands you in the "low active" category. But there's a hidden caveat. Those 3,000 additional steps need to be taken at a brisk pace and need to be executed in increments of at least 10 minutes in order to achieve real health benefits. Otherwise, even if you're getting in the sought after 10K steps, you could still fall short of the amount of exercise needed be to be "healthy." 

A Step is a Step, or is It?

First things first, not all steps are created equal. 10,000 steps spent shuffling around the house and running errands is not equivalent to 10,000 steps that include HIIT, running, spinning... you get the picture. In fact, getting your heart rate up for 10 minutes or more with intense cardio means fewer than 10,000 steps a day may suffice for most folks. Cardio steps are more "valuable" for your overall health than walking steps, which is why you can fall short of 10,000 and still reap the health benefits. If you ask me, that's excellent motivation to hit the box or sign up for a HIIT fitness class! 

You Can't Walk Away From Your Diet

Achieving 10,000 steps a day may have health benefits, but for most, meaningful weight loss and fitness goals require more than simply getting your daily steps in. Tracking calories takes your goals to the next level. Let’s say you need 1,800 calories a day to maintain your current body weight, but actually eat 2,300 calories per day. Assuming your 10,000 steps equals 500 calories burned (this will vary for each person!), you’d only be maintaining your current weight, not losing it. 

Calorie counting has it's flaws, but it still has a place on the weight loss journey. Using a fitness tracker is an excellent way to track steps and calories. Most trackers will even do the math for you, displaying calories in vs, out, updating based on your activity level. Fitness trackers are more than a fad, they keep you accountable and accountability yields health and fitness rewards aplenty. 

The Takeaway

The 10,000 steps per day goal is a general guideline. But if your goal is to lose weight or nail that PR, there's more to it than just steps.

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