The myth of the 10,000 steps a day

Ever wonder where the 10,000 steps a day idea came from? I was reading a bit about it and found this article.

I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, began looking into the step rule because she was curious about where it came from. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’ ”

Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research.


In her research, Lee put it to the test by observing the step totals and mortality rates of more than 16,000 elderly American women. The study’s results paint a more nuanced picture of the value of physical activity.

“The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,” Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps—less than a mile of walking—was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.

That nuance can mean a lot to people who want to be less sedentary but aren’t sure how to start or whether they can do enough to make a difference, says Lindsay Wilson, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “I don’t think setting the bar at 10,000 steps is a very successful way to approach exercise,” she says. “Some people are not walkers. They don’t have safe neighborhoods, or they feel unsteady on sidewalks. You need to be more creative. Is this a person who needs to go to a gym class or the pool, or sit on a stationary bike?”


If many of the persistent myths of American health, like eating breakfast and getting a certain number of steps, are based on marketing rather than science, why do they stick so well? “A big challenge is that the public and the media want cut-and-dried, black-and-white messages and findings, and science just doesn’t operate that way,” says Virginia Chang, a physician and sociologist at the NYU College of Global Public Health. “The uncertainty in the research doesn’t get translated well into the messaging. People just want to know what they should do.”


But for people hoping to improve their overall health, there’s often significant evidence that incremental improvements in things such as diet, hydration, and exercise can have real benefits, even if numerical goals are missed.

Lee says that thanks to advances in technology that make wearable fitness trackers more affordable and reporting on activity more reliable, her research is just starting to explore a fuller understanding of how physical activity and overall health are tied. Because her study was observational, it’s impossible to assert causality: The women could have been healthier because they stepped more, or they could have stepped more because they were already healthier. Either way, Lee says, it’s clear that regular, moderate physical activity is a key element of a healthy life, no matter what that looks like on an individual level.

Science is inherently uncertain, that’s why they have error bars and confidence intervals, and there are usually no clear-cut answers to how much you should exercise. But either way, we know that physical activity is good for you, we just don’t have a specific number for it. Besides, that number is probably very personal and varies among individuals.

Depending on who you are and what you do, it could either be very easy to get 10,000 steps a day, or almost impossible. It’s probably really easy if you work as a waiter, nurse, or delivery person, but good luck if you’re a bus/taxi driver, programmer, or front-desk receptionist. For them, it might be a better idea to do short 7 minute workouts rather than collecting 10,000 steps a day.

Are you wearing heavy things?

The difference between an overweight person and an average-weight person is that the overweight person carries extra weight. I know this all sounds very obvious and all but stay with me for a while.

If you weigh 100kg, or 220lbs, you would no doubt find simple activities like climbing the stairs, going for a run, or even taking a long walk, to be pretty exhausting. You know the reason, you’re out of shape. But what you don’t realize is just how out of shape you are and what it means to be overweight.

If you weigh 80kg, or 176lbs, and you want to know what it feels like to weigh 100kg, just buy a 20kg, or 44lbs, weighted vest and wear it all day. That’s what it feels like to weigh 100kg. No doubt, it feels a lot more tiring to climb the stairs, go for a run or even do long walks. Now take off that vest and see how light you’ve magically become, it’s almost as if you can fly!

Being overweight isn’t just about being fat, out of shape or unhealthy. It also means wearing extra weight, like the equivalent of wearing a 20kg weighted vest all day long.

Do you really want to live life forever wearing a 20kg weighted vest? Wearing it all day every day can also be quite stressful for your bones and joints in the long run so don’t you think it’s worth putting some time and effort into taking it off?

I used 80kg as an ideal weight but you can actually find your own ideal weight using this handy ideal weight calculator to see just how much extra weight you’re wearing.

Perhaps you weigh 100kg and found out that your ideal weight is 70kg, or 154lbs, this means you are wearing a 30kg, or 66lbs, weighted vest every day. No wonder life is such a physical struggle!

Even if your current weight is 80kg and found out your ideal weight to be 70kg, that’s still a 10kg, or 22lbs, weighted vest that you should consider taking off.

Imagine what life will be like if you can finally take off all that extra baggage and remove that weighted vest you’ve been unknowingly wearing for so long. How freeing would that be?

How to be strong without looking like a muscle freak

When you say you want to be fit, what do you mean exactly? To be able to run a marathon? To be able to do 100 pushups in a row? To be able to lift something twice your body weight?

For me, it’s to get stronger without looking like a muscle freak AND be able to hold my own in terms of stamina. If you want to have both strength and endurance, how do you get it?

What you need to do is get your heart pumping and teardown muscle fibers. Do workouts that leave you both out of breath and with muscle soreness. Sounds simple right?

It’s not enough to just go out and run, running trains your heart and stamina. It doesn’t tear or break down much of your muscle fibers. Not as much as resistance training.

It’s not enough to just lift heavy weights and do pushups, they mainly train only your strength. They don’t get your heart rate up high enough or long enough. Cardio does a better job.

The sweet spot I’ve found are kettlebell workouts. Especially the Russian kettlebell swing. I actually discovered it from an experiment done by David Cain, author of, one of my favorite blogs.

After months of kettlebell workouts, I started early this year but it’s been going on and off a lot, I can honestly say that they are awesome. You’ll be surprised how exhausting kettlebell swings are and how great they are at building strength!

Don’t be put off by the “manliness” of kettlebells, it actually builds strength without building bulk! Something you’ll find pretty rare in the fitness world. And don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself.

This is the female world record for 24kg kettlebell snatches, held by Ksenia Dedyukhina, i.e, using one hand to swing a 24kg weight from knee level, to above your head as many times as possible in 10 minutes, and you’re not allowed to put the weight down unless you’re done.

How much does the luggage you pack when going on a vacation weigh? 24kg? How long can you hold it with one hand for? If you condense all that weight into a ball with a handle, can you swing it to above your head? Do you know how exhausting it is to keep swinging that weight for 10 full minutes, let alone swing it 202 times?

Another thing worth noting in the video above. Have you noticed how their bodies looked like? Nothing like those muscle freaks you were imagining I take? I hope this convinces you to give kettlebells a try, they are amazing!

As much as I’d like to research Ksenia, there’s not a lot of articles in English. Most are in Russian, which I can’t read. She’s still a great role model though!

The unpolished diamonds

He was an average guy, doing average things. A newbie in the world of fitness. We made eye contact and chatted for a bit.

It always starts with the usual. Name. Where are you from? What do you do? Where do you live? The usual pleasantries.

He was exceedingly average and started coming here with his friend recently. Nothing much really, just tagging along. His friend taught him some basic exercises, how to do certain movements and so on.

Finally, the conversation steered onto the topic of why we’re here. We talked about what his goal was, what he wanted out of coming here. In one word, it was ‘stamina’.

He seems interested in doing high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. But from what I saw earlier, he seems to be hanging around doing lightweight stuff and taking frequent breaks. Perhaps it’s the newness of it all, or perhaps he’s simply taking it easy today.

Judging from our conversation, he seems to be indecisive and unsure of what he wanted to do. Saying he’ll research more on what workouts to do and whatnot.

The overall impression I get is that it won’t take long for him to throw in the towel. A common outcome for newbies. I was about to dismiss him as such a character until I caught myself having that thought.

Statistically, most newbies give up too early. They think they are just ordinary rocks when in fact, they are unpolished diamonds. It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s more like they don’t know they can do it. They simply haven’t realized what they’re capable of and just how amazing they are.

It’s a mindset problem. Let me paraphrase what Benjamin Zander once said:

It’s not that only 3% of the population loves classical music. Everybody loves classical music! They just don’t know about it yet.

Or put it another way:

It’s not that only 3% of the population loves to exercise. Everybody loves exercising! They just haven’t realized it yet.

It’s still too early to say but let’s hope he realizes just how fun working out can be and succeeds in achieving his goals.