Nursing & Healthcare News

10,000 Steps?

Sorting out the headlines about walking and fitness goals

By now, you’ve probably heard about a new study supposedly debunking the popular fitness goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. However, the clickbait headlines may be missing the study’s point.

7,500 = 10,000

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed data from 16,741 women who participated in the Women’s Health Study between 2011 and 2015. An earlier paper by the same authors had found substantial reductions in all-causes mortality — as much as 70 percent — for older women who increased their physical activity levels.

For the new study, the authors reexamined the data and found that while increased physical activity did correlate with reduced mortality, those longevity benefits actually leveled off above about 7,500 steps/day. All-causes mortality for older women who walked 10,000 steps a day was no better than for those who did only 7,500 steps/day. (The study did not consider younger adults, nor did it analyze other health effects besides mortality rates.)

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The Japanese Manpo-Meter

Lead author I-Min Lee, M.D., MPH, Sc.D., notes that the 10,000-step/day figure actually originated with the trade name for Japan’s first commercially available pedometer, the Yamasa Manpo-Meter (“10,000 Step Meter”).

Introduced in 1965, this popular device was so named because its watch-like dial allowed users to count up to 10,000 steps at a time, which the company’s ads suggested as a standard goal for fitness enthusiasts and walking clubs.

While the company probably didn’t choose that figure based on any specific scientific evidence, later research found that 10,000 steps WAS a useful target for improving fitness and preventing obesity.

In a highly influential 1993 paper, Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D., a professor at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, concluded that 10,000 steps/day represented about twice the average activity level of the typical sedentary adult Japanese man and would burn an additional 300 calories/day.

Every LIttle Bit Helps

The most important takeaway from the recent study is that becoming more active is still worthwhile even if the best you can manage is well short of 10,000 steps/day.

“I’m not saying don’t get 10,000 steps,” Lee recently told The Atlantic. “If you can get 10,000 steps, more power to you. But, if you’re someone who’s sedentary, even a very modest increase brings you significant health benefits.”


Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse.


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