These days it is hard to walk the streets without running into someone who is anxiously looking at their wrist to see if they are on target to reach the magic 10,000 steps. Is it really a goal worth striving for, or might there be something better? And where did that figure come from?
You might be surprised to hear it was the result of a 1960s marketing campaign in Japan. In the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a company came up with a device which they started marketing to the health-conscious. It was called a Manpo-Kei. In Japanese, “man” means 10,000, “po” means steps and “kei” means meter. So, it was, literally, a 10,000 steps meter. The device was an early pedometer, based on the work of Dr Yoshiro Hatano, a young academic at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare. Dr Hatano was worried that the Japanese were busy importing a slothful American lifestyle, as well as a love of watching baseball, and wanted to help them get more active. He reckoned that if he could persuade his fellow Japanese to increase their daily steps from 4,000 to around 10,000 then they would burn off approximately 500 extra calories a day and remain slim.
That, apparently, was how the “10,000 steps a day” regime was born. It was clearly a great marketing success. But is it still the most effective way to improve our fitness?
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