Do you really need 10,000 steps a day?

Image of woman on a walking path

Millions of people use step trackers as a way to meet their goal of walking 10,000 steps a day for better health and fitness.

But what’s so magic about this number? Is it actually based on science?

Turns out it isn’t. 

In fact, its origins date back to 1964 when a Japanese company marketed the world’s first pedometer, a device called a manpo-kei, which translates as “10,000-step metre.” Over the next half century that widely promoted step goal became seen as the ideal to strive for. 

Eventually, studies confirmed that people who engage in this number of daily steps do indeed have lower blood pressure, more stable glucose levels and happier moods. 

No wonder that number found its way onto the wrists of FitBit users around the world.

But now some research indicates that number may be too high. For example, a research study from Harvard Medical School examining the data on 17,000 older women who did 4,500 daily steps found they were about 40 percent less likely to have died than those who managed only 2,700 steps. 

Other research indicates that number may be too low. A small study of Scottish postal workers reported in the International Journal of Obesity found those who walked an average of 15,000 steps had a lower risk of heart disease, healthy cholesterol levels and trim waistlines.

Currently, the average number of steps for the U.S. adult population is between 4,000 and 5,000 steps a day. 

So what’s the ideal number of steps?

There’s nothing wrong with aiming for 10,000 steps a day but it may be a problematic goal for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t take into account the intensity of exercise—there’s a big difference between sauntering and walking at a quick stride, for example. Slow steps aren’t going to get your heart pumping, which is essential for keeping fit. 

Speed walking or running in short bursts can offer more health benefits than walking for an extended time.

Also some fitness activities, such as yoga and weight training, can’t be quantified in steps. 

Finally, setting an arbitrary goal of a certain number of daily steps may cause some people to stop walking once they reach that threshold, even if they might benefit from more activity.

The fact is, there’s nothing magical about walking 10,000 steps a day. What’s most important is being regularly active. Your best bet when it comes to walking is to establish a baseline to determine how many steps you currently take and then continuously increase that by setting new goals that are ambitious but attainable.

And remember, every step really does count.