Do You Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps Per Day?

The answer may surprise you.

By: Jessica Migala

The idea that we need to walk 10,000 steps per day for overall health is so engrained that we assume that the recommendation is based in hard science. But, guess what? The idea for 10K steps per day likely dates back to 1965 when a Japanese inventor created a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which means “10,000 steps meter,” points out a study investigation in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2019.

But does it really hold merit? In order to feel your best, is it 10K or bust?

Why 10,000 Steps Per Day Has Become The Gold Standard 

Over time, 10,000 steps became the go-to recommendation to promote overall wellness. In fact, major organizations, such as the American Heart Association, recommend this amount. The number is so commonly cited that other countries have adopted community programs to encourage 10K steps.

There may be something to back up this number. As a 2019 review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise points out, meeting “moderate-to-vigorous” activity guidelines constitutes 3,000 to 6,000 daily steps. It’s also estimated that we take 2,500 to 5,000 steps per day just moving around (depending on how active your day is naturally). Add them together, and you hit the 10,000 step “rule.”

But, Do We All Need to Walk 10,000 Steps Per Day?

It’s a catchy and simple number to remember, but research doesn’t yet back up that 10,000 is actually needed. In fact, so far, studies have shown that it’s rather arbitrary.

10K Steps for Overall Health and Longevity

Can you step your way to a longer life? A 2020 review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise analyzed the relationship between daily step count to health outcomes in 17 studies. The authors concluded that various studies found that taking an additional 1,000 steps a day is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality between 6 and 36 percent over the span of four to 10 years. Even better: It’s clear people do not need to hit 10K to start getting the benefits of walking.

Another study sheds light on how much may be just enough — or how low you can go. Researchers in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2019 looked at a group of nearly 17,000 women who were, on average, 72 years old. Each person wore an accelerometer for seven days, which recorded the number of steps the speed at which they walked. When women walked 4,400 steps per day, they had a 41% lower risk of mortality compared to those who walked the fewest steps per day (2,700). And more wasn’t necessarily more. Once women started walking more than 7,500 steps per day, they didn’t get any additional benefit from hoofing it further.

Is More Better — For Weight Loss?

Can hitting the mark help you lose weight — or prevent weight gain? Another study, published in the Journal of Obesity in 2019, looked at step recommendations and changes in body weight in 92 freshman college women over six months. (The theory being that the freshman year of college is a common time women gain weight.) One group was assigned to walk 10K steps, another 12,500 steps, and a third group walked 15K steps. All participants gained between three and four pounds (an amount that research shows is in line with typical weight gain during this year), leading researchers to conclude that walking beyond 10K steps per day doesn’t offer any additional benefits when it comes to your weight.

Simple Ways to Get Your Daily Steps In 

What’s clear is that finding opportunities to move your body more and stay active is what matters when it comes to your health. Nothing particularly magical happens at 10K steps per day, but it is worth it to increase your number — even by a little bit — if you’re sedentary during the day. Here are a few places to start:

Add More Steps in During Your Weekend Errands: When planning out weekend errands, ask yourself: Is there anywhere that I can walk to? If not, then park in one location and try to run as many errands as possible before driving to the next stop.

Plan a Walking Date: Get your friends and family to join in by planning a walking date at a local park or even just around your neighborhood! 

Get Out in The Yard: Take part in outdoor chores, like mowing the grass, leaf blowing, or snow shoveling.

Add Some Steps in When You Take Your Dog Out: Need to take the dog out? Walk around the block instead of hanging out in your yard waiting for him to do his business.

Conduct Walking Meetings: Can your next meeting be a phone call that you can take with you on a brisk walk? This is an easy way to squeeze in some extra steps! 

Go For a Lunch Break Walk: If you can’t take your work meetings on a walk, consider taking a brisk walk after lunch. 

Take Frequent Movement Breaks: Get up from your desk and climb up and down one flight of stairs. Speaking of stairs, when they’re available in a public setting, take the stairs instead of the elevator.

The Bottom Line: Daily Movement is King 

Any kind of movement is going to be beneficial for your health. Researchers are still determining the “best” number of steps to take per day. Your body will reap benefits well below the 10K mark, so you can feel good about counting every step you take as a win for your health.

If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts that make it easy to fit more movement into your day! Get started with this Walking Fitness Class with Bree Koegel. You’ll have walked a whole mile in place by the end of this workout!