Why is 10,000 the Magic Number?

November 3, 2021

Certainly since the arrival of wearable fitness devices, the most commonly quoted fitness goal is walking 10,000 steps a day.

Where did 10,000 come from, and is it a proven target for peak health?

Well, the origins of 10,000 being THE number are said to be found in Japan. In the run up to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo there was a craze, of sorts, for pedometers. Large corporations were launching all sorts of products to capitalise on the nation’s ‘Olympic fever’ and one item which seemed to capture the imagination was a device which could count and record the number of steps taken. The name of this pedometer was “manpo-kei” which translated nicely to “10,000 step meter”.

Whether or not the buzz from the Tokyo Olympics was behind our own adoption of a 10,000 step goal is something which can probably never be proven, but the UK National Obesity Forum certainly agrees that walking between 7,000 and 10,000 steps per day can be deemed as ‘moderately active’.

Never underestimate the power of a good walk

Walking can sometimes be considered as the poor relative of ‘proper exercise’ but the benefit of getting the body outdoors (and moving in what is a relatively low impact manner) can be hugely beneficial. It’s an activity which most people can achieve, requires no specialised equipment and can take place in a very accessible place – right outside the front door!

Walking on a regular basis offers a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of: -

  • heart disease
  • strokes
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • depression
  • some cancers

Moving your walking up a step

Figures from the NHS suggest that the average person in the UK walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day as they go about their business. An uplift of this base to 10,000 could therefore be considered as a positive push, without the target being unrealistically challenging.

Of course, your baseline matters. If you are a regular runner, the addition of 10,000 steps to your routine won’t have a huge impact, whereas if you currently have a more sedentary lifestyle it could significantly improve your fitness levels. Some professions too have their own daily demands on the feet and a nurse or doctor covering the wards within a sprawling hospital complex may exceed the 10,000 goal half-way through a typical shift!

From my own personal point of view, 10,000 is a lovely round figure to start with. It’s a good introduction to regular exercise for those who haven’t yet started their training journey, and it’s a marker for those who want to push themselves that bit further – double it, treble it, what’s your personal target? 10,000 may not be the magic number as such, but it’s one that I’m happy to work with.