The Origin of 10,000 Steps

The 10,000 steps per day challenge – championed by the NHS, 10,000 Steps Australia, and Steptember – has its origins in a 1960’s 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, which literally means 10,000 steps meter – in Japanese:

  • ‘Man’ means 10,000;
  • ‘Po’ means steps; and
  • ‘Kei’ means meter.

The device was an early pedometer, which was adopted by Japanese walking clubs, and manufactured by the Yamasa Tokei Keiki Corporation (Tudor-Locke et al., 2008). Although the pedometer was first invented in Europe, Yamasa began manufacture and sale of Manpokei in 1965.

Dr Yoshiro Hatano, a young academic at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, studied the typical steps per day of various lifestyles and established that 10,000 steps translated to approximately 300 kcal (or 300 METs – The metabolic equivalent of task is the objective measure of the ratio of the rate at which a person expends energy, relative to the mass of that person, while performing some specific physical activity) for an average middle-aged Japanese man.

Apparently, 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.

Dr Hatano 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.

It was this research that Yamasa seized on for its marketing campaign.

That, they say, was how the ‘10,000 steps a day’ regime was born.

However, a study of Scottish postal workers, published in 2017, suggests that walking 15,000 steps or more a day provides the greatest health benefits (Tigbe et al., 2017).

That said the Active 10 programme, which is based on three, 10 minute brisk walks per day, may be more beneficial and easier to complete (Mosley, 2018).

Workers who sit for most of each day tend to have much larger waistlines, higher body mass indexes (BMI’s), and worse blood sugar control and cholesterol profiles than those who frequently stand and move (Reynolds, 2017).

References

Mosley, M. (2018) Michael Mosley: ‘Forget Walking 10,000 Steps a Day’. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42864061. [Accessed: 08 September, 2019].

Reynolds, G. (2017) Should 15,000 Steps a Day Be Our New Exercise Target? Available from World Wide Web: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/22/well/move/should-15000-steps-a-day-be-our-new-exercise-target.html. [Accessed: 08 September, 2019].

Tigbe, W.W., Granat, M.H., Sattar, N. & Lean, M.E.J. (2017) Time Spent in Sedentary Posture is Associated with Waist Circumference and Cardiovascular Risk. International Journal of Obesity (London). 41(5), pp.689-696. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.30. Epub 2017 Jan 31.

Tudor-Locke, C., Hatano, Y., Pangrazi, R.P. & Kang, M. (2008) Revisiting “How Many Steps Are Enough?” Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817c7133.

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