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In an age where Fitbits and other activity-tracking devices and apps and social media sharing of exercise and healthy living habits are all the rage, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the “10,000 steps per day” recommendation has gained steam. 10,000 is a nice, round number, and so it feels satisfying in a way, however arbitrary it may otherwise seem. What’s more, we all know that getting in some time for walking every day can be vital for your long-term health. In an age where so many of us spend so much of our day hunched over a screen typing away for work or pleasure, the simplicity of the 10,000 steps edict is alluring.

But is it effective? Just how necessary are those 10,000 steps per day to your health?

A Murky Origin

First, let’s back up and ask how we got to this 10,000 number in the first place. The first recorded instance of the 10,000 steps idea can be found in 1965. However, it’s not part of a scientific journal or exercise routine, but rather a Japanese company offering a meter for tracking steps. Where that number came from is anyone’s guess, though again, that “nice round satisfying number” theory seems a plausible one.

Age Differences

So how many steps should you be getting in on a given day? Even putting things that way is somewhat putting the cart before the horse, because not all steps are created equal. Slow, leisurely steps are going to “count” far differently than high-intensity ones.

What’s more, even if we account for the same number or relatively similar steps intensity-wise, the range varies widely. Among older people, anywhere from 2,500 to 7,500 steps have been proposed. On the other hand, for younger people, more steps may be a good idea.

All of which goes to show that personal fitness is a lot more complicated than a magic number. You need to take a wide range of different variables into consideration, including health, age, and the intensity of the steps in question, and put together a regular routine for walking that works for you.