The Problem With the 10,000 Steps Target

Goal setting is a funky process. That said, it’s a process. You’re never done honing or resetting your goals. They’re personal. The 10,000 steps rule is anything but personal. Adapting it as an absolute is the quickest route to wasting your time.



Before I get accused of being the backlash for backlashing’s sake, let me set the record. 10,000 steps is a fine goal for someone who is currently putting down 6,000 but wants to move more.

There is value in strategy goals. IMHO, they crush fat loss ones every time. BUT, the 10,000 steps goal weaves itself through the halls of fitness like a gold standard.

It’s not really.

The 10,000 step goal is wonky science. You’d be better off weighing your unique health values, your physical abilities, and the time you have available. There are other activities besides walking.

The Science



Guess what? There is none.

The consensus is that the name came from a Japanese version of the pedometer, which was marketed as a “10,000 steps meter.” When the latest wave of pedometers hit the shelves, marketers dusted off the goal, repackaging it for a new generation.

When the latest wave of pedometers hit the shelves, marketers dusted off the goal, repackaging it for a new generation.

There you go. It’s made up.

It’s a benchmark, but there is no magic or science in the number.

Your Goals



If it’s a benchmark, then going for 10,000 isn’t gonna harm you, right?


Let’s say you’re already walking 10,000 steps every day because you don’t own a car or you deliver mail? You’ve been trying to put on ten pounds of muscle or you’ve been trying to get stronger. 10,000 is likely the wrong target for you.

10,000 is likely the wrong target for you. Maybe it should be 10. Maybe you should buy a Segway?

Unless you’re stuffing large pizzas in your mouth as you walk, you’re never gonna gain that way. Getting stronger is gonna be hard too. You’re burning all your fuel walking around.

Your Body



If the only good metric for fitness were 10,000 steps then our disabled friends would be stuck on a line, no? It’s like the one-eyed king telling his blind subjects to “just look around.”

Even if you’re rocking two good legs, you may have hip problems, plantar fasciitis, a torn ACL, you name it. There are many moving parts to the body.

Walking requires all of ’em.

If the only way you’re going to finally get in shape is to start doing something you can’t, you may give up before starting.

Understand now: while there are many steps in the course of living a healthy life, you don’t have to walk even one to get in shape. You can lose weight lying on the flat of your back.

The Time



For most people in the western world, there’s home, then there’s work, maybe Starbucks, but definitely work.

Did I mention work? Can we agree that treadmill desks are going to look dumb in about ten years? [Think: shake weight]

If your life is all about commuting somewhere, you’ve already ignored the concept of getting 10,000 steps. Before we throw out the baby because walking is still a great activity, ask yourself if you can increase your steps by any measure?

For example, many workplaces host walking meetings. Some also organize walking lunches.

You can park farther from your place of work so you walk a few more steps.

These moves won’t close the gap completely, but they are more in the spirit of increasing your activity than doing nothing.

The Alternatives



The great thing about the 10,000 steps hubbub is opening up the conversation. People ask all the time, do I really need to take 10,000 every day?

I respond with a question: What is your goal?

Often there are twenty other things that person could do to burn more calories. Standing is great. I work standing, mostly. Like walking, it’s not for everyone.

Old tricks are the best ones: taking stairs instead of elevators. Intentionally park at the back of a parking lot or on the wrong side of the mall. Taking public transit will even change your activity levels.

Worst case scenario, if none of these work for, try that gym place. You’ll burn calories there.



No matter how you decide to stay active, start with your goals. Consider your body and the lifestyle you live. Consider the time you have to spend.

Don’t stress silly metrics. You can get active however you prefer.

It’s your body. It’s your life.