But in a recent documentary, renowned medical journo Michael Mosley has looked into the origins and the validity of that specific number, casting doubt on our ongoing devotion to hitting it.
In The Truth About Getting Fit, Mosley discovered that getting 10,000 steps a day was first suggested in a Japanese marketing campaign in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. A company had created a pedometer device called Manpo-Kei, based on the work of academic Dr Yoshiro Hatano, encouraging citizens to be more active.
He believed that by increasing the population’s average daily steps from 4,000 to 10,000, it would help them burn off an extra 500 calories and get in shape.
But should we still be striving for a seemingly arbitrary number devised over 50 years ago?
To find out, Mosley teamed up with Professor Rob Copeland to conduct an experiment comparing the benefits of hitting 10,000 steps with and exercise program called Active 10, which requires three brisk 10-minute walks a day.
They found that although the Active 10 participants did less exercise overall, the exercise they did had greater health benefits.
"The Active 10 group actually did 30% more 'moderate to vigorous physical activity' than the 10,000-step group, even though they moved for less time,” Copeland said.
"What we really wanted you to do was to get your heart beating faster. There's lots of evidence to suggest that by doing so you can lower your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers."
Stats show that less than one in five Australians are hitting 10,000 steps per day, so three 10 minute bursts of activity might be a more attainable achievement for many. However, it doesn't mean we need to rule out the step goal altogether – it's important to ensure we're regularly moving to combat our sedentary lifestyles.
The main message is that steps alone aren't enough. Australia's physical activity guidelines recommend:
- Accumulate 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise, or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, or a combination of both;
- Break up extended periods of sitting;
- Do muscle strengthening activities (e.g. go to the gym, or do bodyweight exercises) at least two days per week.
So while you're ticking over your step count, ensure you're raising your heart rate with regular moderate to vigorous cardio workouts and strength training.