Fitbit and the Myth of 10,000 Steps

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The Japanese Manpo-Meter Step Counter

Who doesn’t recall the obese prison guard on Orange is the New Black several seasons ago monotonously stepping in place because, “10,000 steps a day will cause weight loss.”

Well, that’s not rocket science. Sure, calories burned vs calories consumed will result in weight loss. But although Fitbit has capitalized on that and put 10,000 out as a magic number, it is still just an arbitrary number. There’s no there, there. On their site they say, ” When you join Fitbit, the default goal we set for each member is the magical number of 10,000 steps a day.”

Where the Fitbit Myth Started

Although 10,000 steps is just a number grabbed out of thin air, it does have a history and it didn’t start with Fitbit. Back in the 1960s, following the Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company began selling the MANPO-METER which was basically a pedometer. They decided that 10,000 steps per day was just what the doctor ordered for better health.

Of course, there was no doctor; this was pure marketing and it worked like a charm. And after all these years, modern marketers have put lipstick on the pig and the Fitbit phenomenon has been the result. It’s hard to walk down the street and not see a handful of people checking their wrists.

The Good News; it Doesn’t Matter

Alright now that the myth-busting is over let’s get down to science. Yes, for fitness and better health we do need exercise. 10,000 steps is a worthy goal but not all steps are created equal. As a rule of thumb, it has long been bandied about that you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.

But some researchers now cast doubts on that fact. Like everything else, there are just too many variables involved. Bottom line, not all steps are created equal.

To make your effort count:

  • Increase your speed when walking; this will increase your heart rate and metabolism.
  • If you are running, do intervals or some form of speedwork once a week.
  • Consider training for a race. This will motivate you and put you in the company of like-minded people.
  • Hit the hills. This will work you harder.
  • Bump up your mileage/time. To ward off hitting a plateau, increase your effort daily.
  • Change your eating habits. Eat quality food, not junk. Small snacks like nuts are good to keep your blood sugar stable.

So, Should You Invest in a Fitbit?

Absolutely! Most people need some sort of device to see where they are in their training. You aren’t limited to any one type of device.  For example, I use a Garmin. It gives me elapsed time, distance, pace, elevation, cumulative mileage on my shoes so I know when to change them, and more. As a bonus it’s nice enough to be worn as an everyday watch. It also downloads my data to the computer.

It is also quite possible to get your phone to do all this but cell phones don’t always get along with sweat and rain so there will be times when that is not a good option. Today there are any number of training and weight loss apps available to motivate you and keep you on track.

So go ahead and start with Fitbit’s mythical 10,000 steps as as baseline. It is as good as any other number. And remember, there is nowhere to go but up.


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