Determined to get in your 10,000 steps each day? Guess what? A marketing campaign — not true science — is behind America’s most-hyped fitness routine.

If you own a pedometer, Fitbit, or any other kind of activity tracker you’ve probably held yourself to a 10,000-step goal. But, surprisingly, that magic number was part of a marketing campaign and is not backed by real science.

Yamasa Toki, a Japanese company, started the craze in 1965 with the launch of a pedometer called Manpo-Kei, which translates to the “10,000 steps meter.” The company came up with the nifty slogan: “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day!” Soon, walking clubs popped up and by the late 1990s, the 10,000 steps fitness routine swept America, becoming the unofficial standard for ensuring good health and fitness.

The truth is, there is no harm in encouraging people to walk 10,000 steps. In fact, 10K is a nice, even number that translates to about five miles for most people. But is it the right number for you?

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That’s two hours and 30 minutes — less than the length of some movies — spread out over a week. However, whether this is enough exercise for you will depend on your current level of activity and your fitness goals.

Get started

The best way to find out is to get started. Using a pedometer, fitness tracker, or smart phone app, track your walking distance daily to establish a baseline. The number of steps will most likely be lower than 10,000 per day If you have an active lifestyle, your benchmark may be above 10,000 steps.

Set mini fitness goals

If you have an active lifestyle, your benchmark may be above 10,000 steps.

  • Park farther away from the front door at work.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Find a walking buddy to help you stay on track.

Gradually, your stamina will increase. Even better, exercises like walking are low-impact and can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other cardiovascular-related illnesses.

A side effect: weight loss

Being fit has a pleasant side effect: weight loss. In the U.S., 66.3 percent of adults are overweight or obese. To keep from becoming a statistic, you must burn more calories than you consume.

Consider this simple equation: One pound equals 3500 calories; 10,000 steps burns 400 calories or more, depending on how fast your walk. If you work your way to 10,000 steps a day, you can lose a half pound in a week.

Use the 10,000 steps rule to get up and off the couch, then increase your activity as your stamina and fitness level allows.

“The benefits of walking include having better cardiovascular health, burning calories and enjoying the world instead of staying in your room watching TV,” said Caroline Park, LVN, primary care patient coordinator at Keck Medicine of USC.

By Heidi Tyline King

Interested in learning more about fitness? If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a primary care physician to oversee your fitness goals, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit to schedule an appointment.