How many steps should you walk in a day? Most step-tracking wearables, like Fitbits and Jawbones, recommend you hit at least 10,000 steps. The American Heart Association also recommends that figure, and the US National Institutes for Health considers that an “active” goal to reach. But is it enough? Probably not. New York Magazine reports that the 10,000 step figure is actually based on Japanese traditions—and marketing—from the 1960s.
A pedometer—or step tracker—was launched in Japan in 1965 by the Yamasa Corporation, with the slogan “manpokei,” which literally translates to “10,000 step meter.” According to Theodore Bestor, a Japanese studies professor at Harvard, that number resonated with the Japanese. Bestor told the magazine, “It seems likely to me that the 10,000 steps goal was subsidiary to having a good-sounding name for marketing purposes.”
The problem, however, is that as the 10,000 number grew in popularity—it’s a nice round number that’s pretty large, but still achievable even for the barely active—so did our waistlines. The average person in the 2010s—Americans especially—is a lot more sedentary than the average Japanese person was 50 years ago. Our diets aren’t very similar either, Bestor points out: “By all accounts, life in Japan in the 1960s was less calorie rich, less animal fat, and much less bound up in cars.”