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If you have a fitness watch or smartphone, then it has probably nagged you to walk 10,000 steps each day. But why 10,000 steps? Where did that number come from? 

This milestone of about 4.5 miles has become a standard target — but is older and less scientific than you might think. 

The figure dates to 1964, when it was introduced as part of a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer (a device to count steps) when the Olympic Games were taking place in Tokyo. 

There was no scientific evidence for 10,000 steps being particularly important or valuable — but the makers felt it was probably a healthy number. 

So, what is the evidence now? 

Because the target has become so widely used, research has since found out that getting 10,000 steps per day is better for your health than getting just 5,000. 

And more-recent research has also looked at the numbers in between, with interesting results. 

A study of 16,000 women in their seventies was carried out by a professor at Harvard Medical School, tracking the number of steps they took each day against their likelihood of death (from any cause). 

The results showed that the women who took more than 4,000 steps a day were significantly less likely to have died after around four years.  

And as the number of steps increased, the positive impact on life expectancy also improved – up to 7,500 steps, after which there was no real increase in life expectancy.  

Do the type of steps matter? 

This is where the research is less useful. As we have already mentioned,10,000 steps is around 4.5 miles of walking for someone of average height — but the same person would cover around six miles if they were running. 

And strolling around on flat ground will be less beneficial than the same number of steps taken while striding purposefully up a hill. 

It is well established that doing vigorous exercise (which gets you out of breath) is more valuable than the same amount of time doing gentle exercise. 

So, is 10,000 steps the right target? 

Walking 10,000 steps a day certainly is a positive thing to do for your health, but it is not a “magic number”. 

Mixing in some vigorous exercise and possibly strength training will also bring a benefit, especially from middle age onward. 

But something that all experts agree on is that some movement is better than none, and that more is better than less. 

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Always talk to a doctor (or one of our coaches) before drastically changing your exercise habits. It is always good to get some personal guidance.