10,000 steps

I once believed the right attitude was the most important factor in living a healthy lifestyle. To keep moving and stay fit I cultivated a preference for walking to driving. I got in the habit of doing errands on foot, walking to the grocery store, the post office, to visit friends.

About three years ago I bought the Fitbit, and found my mindset and habits didn’t keep me on track as much as I thought. The Fitbit represented my first foray into quantified self, evaluating aspects of my life by the numbers instead of subjective experience.

My first weeks targeting 10,000 steps with the Fitbit were such a surprise. Hours spent cooking and cleaning seemed like constant motion, but yielded almost no steps. I could be found at 11:45 pm, pacing back and forth in the hallway to get the last hundred steps to 10,000. I memorized paths around my neighborhood by number of steps and calculated the extra laps needed to meet my target.

For me steps became such a natural and intuitive measure of my activity. The measure taught me an active day sometimes means driving to the post office so I have time for a run or cardio workout.

This week I happened upon the origins of the 10,000 step goal. It’s cool to learn that something so integral to my daily life began way back in 1960’s Japan. Here’s the story:

After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japan was enthused about physical fitness. Researcher, Dr. Hatano, was ready to put that enthusiasm to use. Hatano studied the number of steps an average Japanese person took in a day, then calculated the additional steps needed to burn an obesity-reducing extra 500 calories per day, and came up with 10,000 steps as a daily total. Hatano successfully marketed a pedometer called the Manpo-kei, which quite literally means counter to 10,000.

10,000 steps still holds sway in the global consciousness as a healthy activity target. I check my step total throughout every day, even though my current fitness tracker sets calorie goals instead of steps.


I learned all about Dr. Hatano and the Manpo-kei from a newsletter sent by one of my favorite apps, Coach.me. They cited the article: Why 10,000 steps?

Pictured from bottom to top is the Fitbit Ultra, the first model made, which I used until it died, and its immediate replacement, the Fitbit One.

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