by Caitlin H,
Jun 19, 2023
When you think about how many steps you need to take in a day to be healthy, what’s the number that immediately comes to mind? There’s a solid chance it’s 10,000.
That’s because 10,000 steps a day has become the fitness industry baseline for living a healthy lifestyle. After all, it’s the default setting for most pedometers and fitness trackers, and a simple internet search will yield thousands of articles on the topic.
But is that number, which generally equates to about 5 miles daily, really based on science?
We decided to find out.
Where Did “10,000 Steps” Originate?
It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why the collective fitness industry landed on the whole “10,000 steps a day” thing. According to Everyday Health, in 1965, a Japanese company created a pedometer called Manpo-kei — which translates to “10,000 steps meter” in English. They marketed the pedometer accordingly, and its wild success became a significant part of Western society.
Is There Science Behind It?
Researchers have conducted several studies to look at the health benefits of taking 10,000 steps a day. Interestingly, most have found that walking far less can elicit significant health benefits.
For example, one prominent 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among 16,500 women between 62 and 101, those who averaged about 4,400 steps a day had a 41% decrease in mortality rate than women who took just 2,700 average steps daily. Women who took up to 7,500 steps a day saw an even more considerable reduction — but then the rate tapered off, even if the women took more than 7,500 steps.
In a more recent study (published in JAMA in March 2023), people with an average age of 50 who walked about 8,000 steps or more a day for just a couple days a week had a 15% lower death rate in a 10-year span than those who walked less than that. There was an even more significant mortality rate reduction among the 3,101 study participants who took 8,000 steps or more a day for 3-7 days a week.
Still, another study published in the 2006 edition of the American Journal of Health Promotion found that a group of overweight or obese adults who walked an average of 9,500 steps a day lost about 5 pounds over 36 weeks.
Is Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Even Realistic?
Most of us are busy — like, really busy. And finding the time to get in 5 miles of steps a day can seem daunting.
Previous research supports the notion that most U.S. adults have difficulty fitting steps into their day. In a 2010 study from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1,921 U.S. adults reported they averaged 5,117 steps a day. Another 2005 study followed 660 men and women in Ghent, Belgium, and found only 8% reached the 10,000 daily step goal over the course of a year. Four years later, almost none of the same study participants were getting 10,000 steps a day.
So, if you’ve ever tried to reach a 10,000-steps-per-day goal and found it seemingly impossible, you’re far from alone.
So How Many Should You Walk?
Thankfully, you don’t necessarily have to walk 10,000 steps a day to enjoy health benefits. As the studies above noted, even a moderate increase in the number of steps you’re getting can yield positive results.
For example, if you have a fitness tracker and notice you’re averaging about 2,500 steps a day, set a goal to reach 5,000 a day for at least three days of the week. Adding that many steps would equate to walking an extra 3.5 miles a week — thank about that; that’s like doing one 5K a week!
Those extra steps add up, too. As Dr. Gabe Mirkin outlined in a recent article, increasing the number of steps you take each day can:
- Decrease dementia
- Decrease death rates in older people
- Decrease death rates in older women
- Decrease death rates from heart attacks and cancer, even if just exercising on the weekends.
“A key to prolonging your life and preventing disease is to keep on moving,” said fitness guru, longtime radio host, and sports medicine doctor Mirkin. “Lying in bed for many hours each day is a certain way eventually to kill yourself. Each day that you spend not moving your muscles weakens your heart, muscles, and bones until eventually, you can die of heart failure. You do not have to have a specific exercise program. You just need to stay active for a large part of each day.”
While aiming to get 10,000 steps a day is a worthwhile goal, it’s not the holy grail to a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle involves a wholesome approach that includes:
- Getting enough sleep (7 or more hours a night).
- Eating a healthy diet (Balanced for nutrition).
- Managing stress properly (such as through mediation).
- Getting sufficient exercise (150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week).
Ultimately, the key is to build a wellness plan incorporating all these elements rather than focusing on an arbitrary number like “10,000.”
Author: Caitlin H
Diet-to-Go Community Manager
Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.