Steamed bridesmaid’s dress: check. Hair and makeup: check. Flip flops for the dance floor: check.
The last remaining bit of bridal party preparation was to remove my Fitbit. Only, you know, not really remove it: Even though I was about to be in a wedding, I couldn’t leave my tracker behind. Instead, I just took the sensor out of its chunky rubber wristband and stuck it into my strapless bra—I mean, if you hit 10,000 steps and your fitness tracker doesn’t register them, do they even count?
My name is Kaitlin, and I’m a self-professed fitness tracking addict (Cue the group: “Hi, Kaitlin.”) Think I’m insane? Maybe. But the wearable fitness tracker industry is projected to reach $48.2 billion by 2023, so I’m not the only one who has done something just a tiny bit crazy to hit their 10,000 steps.
When it comes to reaching those step goals, some people don’t mind looking totally weird.
Christina, who works in public relations, says she’s “obsessed” with reaching 10,000 steps a day and will regularly jog, do jumping jacks, and perform high knees around her 500-square-foot apartment, occasionally taking to the hallway of her building to do sprints in order to meet her goal. Her neighbors love her!
Lisa, a high school English teacher, says she lost 45 pounds in less than a year by pacing around the room as students were taking quizzes and even jogging in place during lectures. And every time she takes a road trip, she makes the most of her pit stops by circling her car as she fuels up and doing laps around convenience stores.
Dana, a financial services professional, was in a competition with two friends and turned off her phone so her opponents wouldn’t be able to see how many steps she’d taken. One friend, determined to beat her, proceeded to run in place for a whopping 30,000 steps. The next day his back was (understandably) in tremendous pain, and he wound up needing surgery. Don’t mess with Dana.
And let’s take a second to shout-out the cheaters:
There are also plenty of people who have admittedly cut corners to reach 10,000 daily steps—in some cases, to win a bet; in other (slightly more concerning) cases, for their own, personal validation.
Caleb, a personal trainer, secured his Fitbit in two pairs of socks and put the bundle in the dryer on the cool-air setting for an hour to beat his friends in a challenge.
Simon, an SEO outreach manager, noted that “driving on a dirt road tends to freak out the Fitbit and Misfit because of all the vibration,” but it helps him hit his goals for health insurance bonuses, so he’s “cool with it.”
A friend shared that she knows someone who put a fitness tracker on his child and someone else who put theirs on a ceiling fan; both did it to win bets. And my own mother copped to shaking her Fitbit-clad arm for most of a nine-hour trip to North Carolina, which sounds tiring in its own weird way. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far, huh?
So why are people going to such outrageous lengths to reach 10,000 steps? Does that threshold actually mean anything for our overall health?
According to healthcare professionals, it’s not exactly a magic number, but it’s a helpful one.
“I love the idea behind 10,000 steps,” Honore Lansen, M.D., says. “It’s a simple concept—incorporate more movement into your day. Most people are familiar with the seemingly endless benefits of exercise (better mood, healthier heart, more energy), and keeping track of the number of steps we take throughout the day is appealing because it gives us the sense that we’re reaping the benefits of exercise without hitting the gym.”
Paul Sterling, vice president of emerging products for UnitedHealthcare, agrees. “Broadly speaking, 10,000 daily steps makes for an easy-to-remember benchmark for better health,” he says. “Logging close to 10,000 (or more) steps a day is recommended because studies have shown that exceeding that mark helps improve health outcomes and lowers health care costs, as walking can help people maintain a healthier weight and prevent or manage various chronic conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes—among other benefits.”
But Chirag Shah, M.D., notes that 10K steps might be a good target for someone who doesn’t walk frequently, but that that specific number could actually wind up backfiring. “A possible drawback of the 10,000-step goal is that it may be overwhelming and result in little-to-no walking whatsoever,” he says. “If motivating, a 10,000-step goal can help build a habit of walking into one’s life. If that goal is demoralizing, choosing a smaller number is a good idea with the intention of working up to 10,000 steps in the future.”
Another drawback? Focusing solely on step counting isn’t ideal for optimal health.
Linda Hodges, D.O., says that while 10,000 steps is a noble goal, she’d prefer her patients get regular movement throughout the day. “If a person only goes by the 10,000-step goal, they could go for a run in the morning and meet their goal by noon,” she says. “They could then sit for the rest of the day and still have issues like insulin resistance due to prolonged sitting. Having a step goal, or any movement goal, is important—it’s an accomplishment that gives us a little boost in our day when we reach it. However, it’s only one part of the equation.”
Lansen agrees. “If we’re overly focused on hitting that 10,000-step goal, we may miss the opportunity to balance our bodies with other important activities,” she says. “Spending 15 minutes meditating may be even more valuable than walking 2,000 steps during a particularly stressful day. Additionally, a 45-minute Pilates class might do more for our strength and flexibility than walking 6,000 steps. Ten thousand steps don’t magically grant us good health for the day—the key to it all is balance. Yes, incorporate movement, but do it mindfully throughout the day and in a variety of ways.”
Hitting 10,000 daily steps is just one piece of the wellness puzzle, and it’s helpful to think of it as a mindset versus an all-or-nothing benchmark to hit any way you possibly can. As Lansen notes, “10,000 steps carries us further as a perspective or way to live an active lifestyle rather than a physical goal.”
So go ahead, put that Fitbit in your bra during a wedding—but make sure you incorporate other types of movement into your day. And if you don’t hit 10K steps? Don’t sweat it—there’s always tomorrow.
Kaitlin Bitting is a content creator, PR consultant, and certified health and wellness coach. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.