Last week, Fitbit floated on the New York Stock Exchange, raising $732 million in the process. The company is now valued at $4.1 billion, which shows the wearable business is well and truly booming, with no signs of slowing down. One of Fitbit’s most famous features, similar to others such as Jawbone, Microsoft Fitness Band, Misfit et al, is its default goal of 10,000 steps a day. It’s a nice round number that’s very much in the public conciousness, but where does it come from? And is there any scientific basis for this amount, or is it merely a suggestion?
It’s believed that it originated in Japan during the build-up to the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo. Pedometers were incredibly popular around this time, no more so than the “manpo-kei”, which means “10,000 step meter”. This pedometer was marketed by Y.Hatano, who’s research showed that 10,000 steps was the right amount to balance calorie intake and calorific expenditure through exercise, in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Manpo-kei effectively become a marketing slogan and since then the figure has become universally accepted.
Scientific studies and health organisations, such as the UK National Obesity Forum, all seem to suggest that the 10,000 step amount does have some validity. However, there are also those who think that it may purely be an arbitrary number, a clever physiological trick. The recommended amount of exercise we should be doing a week is 150 minutes, or 30 minutes a day, for five days. To someone who’s sedentary or struggling for motivation to exercise, 150 minutes may seem like an enormous amount. 10,000 steps, particularly when it’s being tracked, seems much more achievable on face value. It also taps into the idea of ‘gamification’, essentially 10,000 steps becomes the ‘high score’ to either achieve or beat.
Also worth considering is that not every step you take is equal. Gait differs from person to person, as does leg length. So 10,000 steps for a 6 foot woman, won’t be the same as for a 5 foot 6″ man. Similarly, fitness trackers are known for miscounting steps. Perhaps you raise your hands to catch a squeeze or bend down to tie your shoelaces, all this could be counted as steps, meaning your final figure might not be wholly accurate.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fitness wearables. Any device or system that motivates you to get regular exercise can only be seen as a positive influence. What’s important is that the focus must remain on the amount of exercise you do in a week, rather than slavishly following a prescribed number of steps.