Geek Trivia

The “10,000 Steps A Day For Better Health” Idea Originated With?

Benjamin Franklin
A Japanese Pedometer Company
Dr. John Harvey Kellog
The New York Department of Health
What Common Food Stuff Was Used As Theatrical Blood In Many Mid-20th Century Films?

Answer: A Japanese Pedometer Company

The Japanese didn’t invent the pedometer, but many people over the centuries have dabbled in crafting them. What they did accomplish, however, was linking the pedometer with fitness. Prior investigation of the pedometer had a more pragmatic approach like how a traveler could measure the distance they had walked, a military group could measure how far they had marched, and so on. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the idea of tracking the number of steps you walked towards a fitness goal (not a destination) became the focus of the little device.

We can trace this shift back to Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, specifically. While a professor at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, he conducted research into exercise and the calories burned therein. In the course of his research, he realized that simply increasing how far a person walked per day could have significant health benefits for the people of Japan (and people everywhere, for that matter). At that time in Japan, the average person walked between 3,500-5,000 steps a day. Hatano calculated that if people walked extra steps, around 10,000 instead of 5,000, then they could burn around 500 extra calories every single day.

He began selling a device called the “manpo-kei” or, literally, “the 10,000 steps meter” in 1965 to promote his health goals for the country. The thing is, he could have picked 9,000 steps, 12,000 steps, or any number there about. There’s no specific health data regarding 10,000 steps, and his decision to select 10,000 has as much to do with simply doubling the high end of the average number of steps Japanese citizens were taking as it was selecting a number that simply felt “right” for the culture. The number 10 in Japanese sounds similar to the word for “enough”, and 10,000 is regarded as an auspicious number, so suggesting that 10,000 steps a day would be enough to bring you good health and fortune was particularly palatable.

When, decades later, the pedometer made its way into mainstream Western culture, it brought the association of 10,000 steps for good health along with it. To this day, analog and digital pedometers alike still use 10,000 steps as a goal. Don’t get us wrong, however. Pointing out the origin of the trivia as a (however well meant) marketing ploy by a Japanese doctor selling pedometers doesn’t change the fact that walking a lot is a good and healthy goal. 10,000 steps works out to be roughly five miles, and walking five miles a day instead of sitting on the couch or taking a cab is definitely a more steady path towards better health.

Image courtesy of John Rooksby/University of Glasgow.