The Myth of 10,000…Times Two
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | May 5, 2023
Yesterday I got in the car to go to the gym and then I did something spontaneous and unusual. I turned on the radio. NPR. Because sometimes, rather than precisely pairing my mental/emotional state with a podcast of the perfect hue (in this case it would’ve been something about Peruvian birds I think), I like to pretend it’s 1999 and push the FM button.
And the universe conspired (as it is wont to do) to tell me something I needed to hear.
As I was traversing that 9-minute jaunt across town to make sure I get my age appropriate exercise in, I heard a reporter talk about how the 10,000 steps thing is not based in science – rather the idea was masterminded and promoted by a Japanese company almost 60 years ago.
Turns out that the success of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics prompted a company called Yamasa to design the first wearable pedometer, the great grandmother of the Fitbit. They called it Manpo-Kei which means “10,000-step meter.”
The reason they choose 10,000, according to NPR, is because the Japanese kanji symbol for 10,000 looks a bit like someone walking. 万
But this number is based on marketing rather than science. It is however relevant to Asian culture. Counting is done with 10,000 as a unit (ichi man in Japanese). And 10,000 is an important philosophical number from Chinese culture – one of the most famous quotes (about cosmology) from the Tao Te Ching:
The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand things.
Still, 10,000 is not a relevant number as a prescribed number of daily steps. And to think… how often I’ve had to plug up a slow-drip shame hole by failing to meet that magic number???
In 2019, a study from Harvard was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine. It looked at 16,741 women with a mean age of 72 and found that women who took, on average, 4,400 steps per day over 7 days, had significantly lower mortality rates in the follow-up four years later than mostly sedentary women.
It also found that there was no reduced mortality rate benefit above 7,500 steps a day. So, I can walk less than half of the OCD 10,000 Fitbit shame-o-meter and be just fine?! 😬 Who knew?
How did I miss this news 4 years ago? (Prolly I was listening to some carefully chosen, emotionally-valanced random podcast about Peruvian birds instead of NPR.)
Here’s another random 10,000 myth: Remember that thing about how you need to practice for 10,000 hours to master something? Promoted by Malcolm Gladwell?
Turns out that’s also drivel. I somehow managed not to miss that one. The grumbling about its inaccuracy started more than a decade ago. But I still see it bandied about quite a bit.
Actually, the number of hours you’ve practiced is not as relevant as how you practice and your innate skill. People do seem to make headway when they have greater concentration and focus, as well as when they practice under expert guidance. But the number of hours is not highly relevant and certainly not 10,000 – it may be more or less, depends on the person, skill, predilection, etc. This may be relevant for new yoga teachers who feel inadequate about not having enough hours under their belt – and also speaks to the importance of diligence and good training.
Mastery takes time, but how much time is debatable.
We live in a culture that constantly screams at us to do more, know more, push harder, shop more, grab life by the horns more, burn the candle at both ends, and don’t miss out. And we believe it. We embrace it so strongly that we buy into nonsense myths about 10,000 as the magic number – which shores up our insanity.
For me, yoga and meditation practice keeps me slightly less cray-cray in the face of it all. It slows down the whirlwind, puts things into perspective, and helps me quiet down that carefully crafted, internalized cultural narrative of what I must do and achieve. And I don’t think I would survive without it.
(After I wrote this, just for fun, I checked to see if there were any podcasts about Peruvian birds. Turns out there’s at least one. 😁)
Find out what’s beyond trauma informed yoga, check out my free eBook, How to Be Trauma Attuned in the Yoga Space.