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April 13, 2023
Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps Per Day to be Considered "Healthy"?
The “10,000 steps” phenomenon goes all the way back to the 1960s. Not in a research lab or doctor’s office, but as part of an advertising campaign.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a runaway success. To capitalize on the momentum, Japanese company, Yamasa, created the first ever pedometer. This trendy step counter was marketed with a push for pedometer users to strive for 10,000 steps per day. At that time, there was no science behind the number chosen—just an idea that 10,000 steps sounded like something that would fit with an active and healthy lifestyle.
That said, is walking 10,000 steps per day a worthwhile goal? This blog has the answer. Read on to find out…
Do You Actually Need 10,000 Steps Per Day?
Should you automatically shape your walking routine around a 10,000 step goal? “Not necessarily,” explains personal trainer Sydney Bueckert, NASM CPT, CES, FNS, and GPTS. “10,000 steps is a good goal because it’s so challenging, but that may mean it’s not perfect for everyone. It’s easy to set our sights on what’s optimal, but you’re more likely to consistently achieve what’s practical and approachable. And consistency is the most important factor in any weight loss journey.”
For some people, 10,000 steps is an excellent goal to strive for. But depending on your goals, lifestyle, and activity levels, you may want to aim for a different number. The most important thing is to get moving in the first place, and doing so in a way that works for you.
What Does Science Say About Getting 10,000 Steps Per Day?
Those marketers from the 1964 Olympics had the right idea. In the decades since then, research has found that for many people, getting 10,000 steps per day does have fantastic health benefits…
For starters, 10,000 steps per day can help you lose weight. “Walking 10,000 steps per day, with some steps accumulated in bouts as small as 10 minutes at a time, can enhance weight loss efforts,” says Bueckert (1). Getting 10,000 steps per day can also help lower your blood pressure, decrease your risk of early death, decrease your risk of cardiovascular issues, and decrease depression and anxiety (2, 3, 4, 5).
And perhaps the most promising statistic of all: Getting more steps may help you live longer, even if you don’t reach 10,000 each day (6, 7, 8, 9). One study found that when compared to a routine of 4,000 steps per day, people who walked 8,000 steps per day had a 51% lower risk of all-cause mortality (death from all causes). And when people who took 12,000 steps per day were compared to those who took 4,000 steps per day, they were found to have a 65% lower risk (10).
So, How Many Steps Do You Actually Need Each Day?
There isn’t one universal step goal that you should strive for. Instead, it depends on your goals and where you’re starting from. The main goal is to improve your current routine. If you don’t spend much time walking, aiming for 10,000 steps per day straightaway may be too drastic of a change.
“For people who aren’t already active, 5,000 steps [per day] might be a better place to start,” explains Bueckert. “Even 10 minutes of walking at a time is enough to start accruing benefits. Keep in mind, it’s when you move from doing nothing to doing something that you’ll see the biggest change across the board—from your mindset to your physical health.” Slowly work your way up to 10,000 steps per day over time.
If you already exercise consistently, walking extra steps can help you ramp up your daily calorie burn. “Walking typically contributes to non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)—the energy expended on activities that aren’t sleeping, working out, or eating,” Bueckert says. “NEAT accounts for approximately 15-50% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). If you’re only putting in time at the gym, but sedentary for the rest of the day, odds are good your NEAT is on the low end—that’s a lot of calories left on the table which could contribute to your weight loss efforts and health.”
If this sounds like you, stick to your current exercise routine and aim to increase your walking to an additional 5,000 steps per day. This will help you squeeze in extra movement between your workouts. Other great ways to increase your NEAT and burn more calories include gardening, playing with your grandkids, cooking, household chores, or walking the dog.
Any daily step count that is higher than your previous routine is a win. Just because a study only looked at 10,000 steps doesn’t mean that getting 7,000 or 8,500 steps per day isn’t important. What matters is finding a goal that works for you. Healthy adults can take anywhere from around 4,000 to 18,000 steps per day—that’s a wide range (11).
How to Lose Weight Through Walking
The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, along with two days per week of strength training (12). Walking 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week can help you reach most of that goal.
If you want to lose weight with your walking routine, note that one study found that 8,600 steps per day can help prevent weight gain in adults (13). If you want to up the ante, walk faster or on an incline. And make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and managing stress.
The Bottom Line
The age-old suggestion of walking 10,000 steps per day has many health benefits, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all recommendation. The most important thing you can do for your health is strive to add more movement to your daily routine than before, even if that increase is less than 10,000 steps at first. By increasing your step count slowly over time, you’ll experience easier weight loss, lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, and more.
In need of some walking motivation? Join our Private Facebook Group where we host 10-day walking challenges throughout the year!
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.