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Do You Really Need 10K A Day?

The "10K a day" rule first emerged as a goal distance for walking groups in Japan during the 1960s.

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Why is 10,000 the magic number when it comes to tracking steps? A lot of fitness trackers have the ability to set step goals based on a user’s average over a period of time, but most people still believe in logging 10K a day. Let’s talk about how that number came to be and if you should be following the “10K a day” rule.

Origin Of 10K A Day

According to UC Davis Integrative Medicine, the big, round number of 10,000 steps was taken as the golden rule of the day way back in 1960s Japan when pedometers caught on with walking enthusiasts there. These Japanese pedometers were called manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter” in English.

However, there is definitely confusion when it comes to how this number was established. We reached out to SteadyMD running doctor Josh Emdur, who said, “My impression is that the 10K mark was invented since it is just easy to remember.”

Whatever the case may be, the question remains: Should we be trying to reach 10,000 steps each day?

The Evidence

After pedometers and step counters infiltrated the U.S., the 10K a day rule stood based on several studies touting the health benefits of taking at least that many steps each day. And, although the Center for Disease Control doesn’t specifically regard the 10K a day rule, it does suggest adults get “two hours and thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and muscle strengthening on two or more days a week, that work all major muscle groups.” Dr. Emdur added that this also aligns with The American Heart Association, which recommends the same “in the spirit of the 10K a day benchmark.”

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Dr. Emdur told us, “that sitting and inactivity are the new smoking. Numerous studies have linked inactivity with cardiovascular disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, depression, cancer, pain, and all cause mortality.” Dr. Emdur, who is himself an avid runner (he ran a sub-3-hour time at the 2017 Boston Marathon) and physician, added, “Walking is a great way to relieve stress while exercising the entire body.”

We agree—and sometimes, running is even better.

The Problem

Part of the issue with the 10K a day rule concerns those times when athletes are participating in healthy, aerobic activities that pedometers don’t track, like cycling, swimming or strength training. “I will literally be on my bike trainer for over 30 minutes, and my watch is telling me to ‘move,’” wrote one triathlete on a social media page. “It’s pretty comical.”

Dr. Emdur has seen this with his patients, as well. “Steps do not tell the whole story of daily activity,” he said. “I explain to my patients that it is important to move like a human. Walking, running, climbing, swimming [and] dancing are all good.”

Dr. Emdur advises finding an activity that you enjoy doing and can integrate into your lifestyle, which helps to make it sustainable on a daily basis.

The Point

Even if you’re not hitting the coveted 10K goal, it’s important to look at the big picture and get in as much activity as you can. Most runners have no issue hitting this number on their running days, and sometimes non-running days should be taken much easier, with significantly fewer steps—especially if you’re training for a long-distance race.

“I have my patients track their steps simply to raise awareness of their daily activity level,” Dr. Emdur said. “If someone walks 1,000 steps per day, having them improve from their baseline is a good place to start, since going from inactivity to 10K a day can be very intimidating!”

Take into consideration where you are starting from and build from there. Most importantly, Dr. Emdur reminds us that the number is not the point; instead, it’s best to try to “spend most of our day upright, walking, breathing fresh air and enjoying our beautiful planet,” no matter how many steps you take!


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