Gotta Get My Steps In
The rise and popularity of Fitbit signaled a wave in wellness culture that just walking around a lot counted as fitness. This notion caught on undermining the “no pain no gain” approach that cardio meant jogging or cycling miles each week and that workouts needed to be planned. While Fitbit has already seen its glory days, it established the 10,000 step rule which most health apps still use as a baseline on most activity trackers. The 10,000 step goal hinted at obtaining health pre-chair times - like when humans would just walk around all day roaming the primordial forests. Similar to Crossfit and Paleo marketing that were trending around the same time, Fitbit vaguely implied that their device would combat the modern sedentary lifestyle by walking around a lot. The Fitbit philosophy is also profound because while asking every user to attain a very challenging goal; the step count is also the smallest unit of measurement to congratulate oneself for taking the stairs instead of the elevator. One step at a time. Literally.
Are 10,000 Steps Beneficial? We don’t have examples that show benefits (in longevity, cardio health, or weight loss) from the 10,000 step goal. The human body tends to acclimate to the current activity level – so while someone who was inactive starts walking 10,000 a day will feel an immediate change; the body will eventually return to its status quo if there’s no other increase in activity. In fact, several studies indicate that those who walk less than 10,000 maintain better longevity than those who maintained the 10,000 threshold. In one study’s follow-up questionnaire, the 10% of participants who actually obtained 10,000 every day during the study didn’t keep up with it but instead went back to their habits from before the study. These studies also show better longevity among adults who get 6,000-7,000 steps a day as opposed to the 10,000. A 2019 study showed women in their 70’s benefited most at 4,400 steps a day. It seems like a big jump that taking the smallest increment of energy – a single step amounts to big-picture wellness goals. It’s like counting the carbs per grain of rice instead of a serving. Most pedometers don’t account for the person’s age, height, stride, walking speed, accurate incline, BMI, cardio health, etc. The 10,000 goal was everyone's baseline.
So, Why 10,000 Steps? The 10,000 step goal came from a Japanese clockmaker shortly after the 1964 Olympics. Hoping to monetize a new interest in fitness after the Olympics, he made a pedometer. The brand of his pedometer in Japanese characters loosely resembled a walking man, and in sort of a pun the character means “10,000”. It was never intended to be taken literally.
What Did We Learn? Any one-size-fits-all rhetoric like “8 glasses of water” or “breakfast” or “10,000 steps” is usually at best unfounded and at worst a strategized marketing push. Brooke's Take: Friends, please be careful with all wearable tracking devices and apps. The Fitbit may not have helped anyone achieve long-term fitness goals, but it did successfully track every step taken. Google bought Fitbit in 2020 and of course phones, watches etc. are all selling your data through an assortment of wellness tracking apps.