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Forget About Walking Your 10,000 Steps. Do This Instead.

10,000 steps – we see and hear about it all the time.  Many of us have wearables like the Fitbit or Apple iWatch that set the daily 10,000 step goal for us. We have apps that make meeting the goal very satisfying, so satisfying, in fact, that we’ll admit that we’ve sometimes walked around in circles at the end of the day just to try to meet our daily 10,000 steps challenge.

10,000 steps

Why walk 10,000 steps a day?

Walking 10,000 steps seems like a Fit in 6 Minutes’ because it implies a healthy distance of about eight kilometres or five miles a day but for many of us whose jobs force us to sit for large amounts of time or who have young kids to wrangle, 10,000 is a lofty goal and, in trying to meet it, we do end up pushing ourselves a great deal more than we otherwise would have. But why 10,000 steps?

You may be surprised to know that 10,000 steps started with the Japanese and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Japan wanted to make sure that its people started focusing on a healthy lifestyle leading up to the Olympics and encouraged lots of walking as the easiest exercise. Around the same time, a pedometer was released to help people keep track of the distances walked. Walking clubs started to form and with it a slogan of Manpo-kei, which means 10,000 steps in Japanese, was created. 10,000 steps is more like a marketing campaign than an actual, tried and tested program, but for some reason, it has just stuck.

10,000 steps

10,000 Steps a Day Isn’t the Be-All-End-All Fitness Goal

It was the program called The Truth About Getting Fit that made me question the 10,000 steps a day challenge. In the show, they split a group of people who worked together into two groups. One group had the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, and the other group had to do the ‘Active 10’, a brisk 10-minute walk three times a day which worked out to be around 3,000 steps.

At the end of the week, measurements were taken. The participants who did the Active 10 ended up having the best results. The participants doing the 10,000 steps a day found it incredibly hard to fit in the distance, and their bodies didn’t reach the same cardiac output. In fact, the results showed that the Active 10 people did 30% more ‘moderate to vigorous physical activity’ than the 10K step group, even though they workout out for a smaller amount of time.

10,000 steps a day

Of course, we know that, like any exercise, the 10,000 steps health benefits include protection from bone and muscle loss and it improves our cardiovascular health, however, for many, particularly us busy women, it’s often not a practical fitness goal and it might pay to focus on quick sessions of more intense exercise. It’s also important to note that 10,000 steps doesn’t take into account ‘non-step’ exercises like strength training or riding a bike. Perhaps 10,000 is just a nice fancy number and just a lot of steps?

Upon looking further into the magic number of 10,000 steps I came across some more findings supporting high-intensity interval training. ABC’s Catalyst aired an episode, ‘Fit in 6 Minutes’ which had me intrigued.  The lady in this program participated in HIIT training (sprints with rest intervals) a few times a week over four months. She didn’t change her diet during that period but still lost 1.5kg of fat and 5cm of her waist and hips. I’d recommend watching the video below.

Heart rate monitoring

In contrast to counting steps on your monitor, consider using the heart rate monitoring function instead. Heart rate monitoring is a powerful tool because it demonstrates the challenge your body underwent in completing an exercise.  By monitoring how much a certain exercise raises your heart rate, you will know when you’ve reached a plateau and need to increase your intensity.  Plus, many of our wearables already monitor our heart rate and when we’re in various zones of exercise intensity.

While 10,000 steps is a valid starting point for your wellness journey, it is just a number. When it comes to exercise, take the time to really challenge yourself and make sure you’re getting your heart rate up because that’s where you’ll start to see results.

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The Exercise That's Better Than 10000 steps

Eva Lewis


  1. October 1, 2018 / 4:54 pm

    Such an interesting point Eva. I admit, I try for my 10K steps a day, but I don’t always get the intensity levels up even if I do happen to meet my goal. I try for a good intensity walk a few times a week but I will start looking at ways to build intensity up more often (and stop being so hung up on the step count!)

    • October 3, 2018 / 11:37 am

      Yeah, I think it’s the being hung up on the 10K which is a little deceptive which is why I wanted to point out exactly where that figure came from. It’s certainly not a number for everyone and as busy women, it makes sense to perhaps do fewer steps but with more intensity.

  2. October 3, 2018 / 7:58 am

    Interesting! I feel like such a failure when I’m home with the kids and can barely get 3000 steps in. I really have to make an effort to get to 10k as a stay at home mum. I have taken to running laps of the back yard with the kids which has been fun and will try the ideas you’ve suggested. Thanks for making me not feel so bad!

    • October 3, 2018 / 11:38 am

      That’s the thing Emily, you don’t have to get to 10K steps. If you just focus on intense exercise for short periods, you’re much better off than walking 10K steps. I’m a busy mum and there’s no way I do 10K steps a day!