10,000 Steps

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day?

japanese symbol for 10,000

The Japanese Symbol for 10,000 looks a little like a person walking.

Taking 10,000 steps a day is a pretty good target if you need a target, but you should know that the whole “10,000 steps” thing was invented in 1969 by a company that wanted to sell pedometers. It happens that the Japanese character for “10,000 steps” looks a little bit like a man walking.

As early as 2010, when few people wore fitness trackers, Fitbit itself said that the goal was arbitrary.

If you can get in 10,000 steps a day, you will probably be healthier than if you get no steps at all, but that’s not hard to figure out. The more important question I hear from patients is, “If I don’t get 10,000 steps in every day, will it hurt me?” The answer to that is an unequivocal “No.” Movement is good. Bodies are meant to move. An arbitrary limit is only a target designed to get you to move more rather than an iron-clad guarantee that you have checked the “exercise” box and nothing bad will happen to you.

A study published in JAMA in May 2019 defined “inactive” as 2700 steps per day or less. Women who took 4400 steps/day had a lower mortality rate than women who only took 2700 steps. The benefit increases up to 7500 steps and then levels off.

However, there are some questions about the findings from the Women’s Health Study.  it’s not possible to prove that the additional steps caused better health. What is clear is that the outcome begins to shift at 4400 steps per day averaged over a week, and not at 10,000.

Bottom line: Move, and when you can, move more. 

Take the stairs, park in the shade at the far end of the parking lot, get a walk-behind mower. Set a goal to increase your steps by 1000 per week. This is helpful If you are a person who sets goals and if your goals are prioritized to increase the amount of movement you get each day.

An EXTRA 10,000 steps a day added to your current average steps will help you lose a pound a week if you don’t change your eating. That’s a lot of extra steps, and many people find it easier to eat less or do a combination of both.

This is interesting: the Amish Obesity studies showed that Amish men take about 16,000 steps a day while Amish women take about 14,000. Only 4% of Amish people are obese, compared to about 37% of non-Amish Americans. Rates of diabetes are lower in the Amish populations, too.

So remember: Move, and if you can, move more.

If you have questions about your health, healthy ways to lose weight, what kinds of exercise are good for you, and dietary issues, that’s something I discuss with my patients. Learn about Sentinel Primary Care and find out what it feels like to have a doctor who has time for you.

Dr. O’Connell


The Atlantic: 10,000 Steps Rule

JAMA Internal Medicine 

Fitbit.com Blog: The Magic of 10,000 Steps

World Life Expectancy: The Amish Obesity Studies

ACSM: Physical Activity in an Old Order Amish Community