It’s Like I Said: You Don’t Need 10,000 Steps/Day

Many of you will remember our conversation about becoming more active. I always recommend using a $20, research-quality, Yamax pedometer to track your activity instead of a $100+ FitBit or a similar wrist-worn device. I try to interest you in the little book written by my thesis advisor, Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke, “Manpo-Kei, The Art and Science of Step Counting.”

This little book can be read in less than an hour and it directly addresses our increasingly sedentary lives. It is a kind of workbook, helping us identify the habits that create huge blocks of sedentary behavior in our days. The book includes questions and fill-in-the-blanks to help each of us discover the simple lifestyle changes that can result in dramatic gains in our steps/day numbers.

Invariably, when I ask participants, “How many steps/day do you think you need for good health?” the answer is “10,000.” If I ask, “Why 10,000?” no one really knows. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the source of the 10,000 steps/day number comes from the 1960s when a Japanese company introduced a pedometer named “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese.

That is, “10,000 steps” originally was a marketing slogan; it has no scientific underpinnings at all.

The Manpo-Kei program explains that if you walk at least 7,500 steps a day, you are likely meeting the national guidelines for physical activity (150 minutes/week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise). In fact, if you walk at least 3,000 of your daily steps at a pace of more than 100 steps per minute — walking purposely — it equates to moderate intensity. That is, 3,000 steps at good clip is essentially the same as half an hour of moderate intensity exercise.

Manpo-Kei reflects Dr. Tudor-Locke’s good humor and her encouraging approach. She tries to dispel the notion that 10,000 steps is the definition of success:

“It’s not like there’s a single value where the heavens open up and the angels sing or anything like that. It’s a continuum.”

These days, research indicates that adults in the United States average only 5,000 to 6,000 steps per day. Dr. Tudor-Locke warns,

“Falling below 5,000 steps is definitely a red flag and less than 2,500 steps a day is a very big concern…. We know that the health benefits from walking are greater as you increase the number of steps. But the nice thing about walking is that you get a big return for even a small investment if you are starting out with a smaller number of steps and you increase that even modestly.”

I used to be able to find “Manpo-Kei, The Art and Science of Step Counting” for sale as a used book on Amazon for less than $1, with about $4 in shipping. Now, the prices are all over the map, sometimes wildly expensive. Dr. Tudor-Locke long ago gave me permission to promote her program and help people start their own step-counting program. So if you can’t find a copy yourself, send me an email (NancyLHowe@gmail.com) and I’ll help you get started. And if you do have a copy, you’re in luck. Not only are you healthier, but now you have a highly treasured asset too! Yet another benefit of Manpo-Kei!

Nancy L Howe

I was a daily exerciser and I ate my fruits and vegetables, but in 1997, I was diagnosed with cancer anyway. I experienced first-hand the benefits of physical activity during treatment and beyond. That was my "Aha!" moment. I left my corporate career, earned my masters at Arizona State University studying exercise science, and joined the staff of University of Arizona cancer researchers in 2005. In 2013, I earned my Cancer Exercise Specialist certification from the University of Northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, and founded Strong Cancer Recovery. In 2017, I joined the Arizona State University Cancer Prevention and Integrative Medicine research team, and entered the PhD program at ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation. My research focus is breast-cancer-related lymphedema, including the preventive and ameliorative benefits of physical activity.