You might have heard the saying that 10,000 steps a day is good for your health. But is this truly the magic number that holds the secret to long-term health and longevity? Does this recommended step count vary with gender, age, or even the day of the week? Let's explore these questions, find easy ways to bring your step count up, and discover strategies to help you stride into your optimal range of fitness.
Taking 10,000 steps per day has become the gold standard for improving health outcomes in adults.
If you lead a more sedentary lifestyle, create opportunities to walk more. You could try getting off the bus one or two stops early, or parking a block away from work and walking the remaining distance.
While 10,000 steps per day is a popular goal, it's not suitable for everyone. Personalize your steps per day based on your age, current fitness levels and your health goals.
Where did the 10,000 steps idea come from?
The origin of this recommendation comes from a marketing campaign that emerged in Japan in the mid-1960s when a pedometer manufacturer released a step-counting device called the "Manpo-kei," which translates to "10,000 steps meter".
The catchy name took hold of the health and fitness world and has gained traction ever since.
Is 10,000 steps the goal for everyone?
Movement is good for the body and mind, and walking is an easy way to factor in more physical activity. However, while taking 10,000 steps has become a marker for many of us — there isn't a one size fits all answer. Many factors influence the ideal step count, including:
- Overall fitness level
- Individual fitness goals
If we look closer at a more desk-based and sedentary lifestyle, the step number might need to increase to reach optimal fitness levels. However, an older adult may need to reduce the step count due to age-related mobility issues.
What the science says
There are several studies and recommendations based on age, gender and current fitness levels that need to be factored in when considering the 10,000 steps rule.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 18–64 should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, spread throughout the week.
It's also suggested that muscle-strengthening activities should be implemented at least twice weekly. This could be bodyweight exercises or lifting weights. It's worth noting that the CDC doesn't specifically mention the ideal number of steps an individual should take to maintain and optimize health outcomes.
For older adults aged 65 and above, the guidelines are similar but also include the importance of incorporating balance exercises to help prevent falls. Before starting any new fitness regimen, it's wise to consult with a healthcare professional or personal trainer to ensure a personalized and structured exercise plan.
Some studies suggest that men naturally take more steps daily than women on average. While this may appear to give the idea that women need to take fewer steps, it's important to recognize that the ideal step count should be based on personalized goals, not gender stereotypes. Instead of comparing numbers between men and women, try to focus on increasing your own number of steps steadily and consistently.
Current level of fitness
Your current level of fitness will also dictate the ideal number of steps you should aim for. If you've had a long break from exercising, don't rush into trying to hit the coveted 10,000 steps mark straight away. Studies have shown that you are much more likely to hit your fitness goals and create consistent practice if you set achievable targets. Start by increasing your number of steps by an extra 500 to 1,000 per week and build up from there.
What is the ideal step count?
The general consensus is that anyone taking less than 5,000 steps per day can be considered to have a sedentary lifestyle. Leading a less-than-active life has been linked to various health risks, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic disorders
If you are currently leading a fairly inactive lifestyle, aiming for 5,000 steps per day is a great goal to get you started. For those of you who have an active week and then completely flop at the weekend — try to keep moving on Saturday and Sunday too. Although the day of the week doesn't directly influence the number of steps we should take, we tend to want to relax more at the weekends. Instead of lounging on the sofa for two days you could meet with friends for a picnic in the park, or take a hike in your nearest nature reserve.
Practical strategies to increase your step count
If you want to hit the gold standard of 10,000 steps per day, then you can increase your step count in several ways.
- Make small changes. Instead of taking the elevator, try taking the stairs. You could park your car a few blocks away from work or home to allow you to walk a bit further to reach your destination. Hop off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way home. Making a few minor adjustments to your daily routine adds up.
- Add in walking breaks. If you are sitting at a desk most of the day, incorporate taking walking breaks into your day. Set a reminder on your computer or phone to stand up, stretch your legs and take a short stroll around your office, or walk around the whole building. Try taking a walking lunch break rather than sitting in the breakout room or at your desk.
- Make it fun. Just plain old walking can seem a bit boring. Why not spice it up by listening to a new playlist or podcast as you hit the streets? You can even try taking a new route to work or exploring different areas in your neighborhood.
- Set realistic goals. Don't try to hit the 10,000 steps mark after having only walked down the street once or twice last month. Start by adding in an extra 500 to 1,000 steps a week and work your way up from there. You can use the steps counter on your phone or invest in a wearable device like a fitness tracker or pedometer.
Make walking part of your daily routine. Whenever you need to run an errand, think about walking instead of hopping in the car. Perhaps you could take an evening stroll after your dinner, or take walking dates with friends instead of sitting in a café.
Whichever methods suit you, your aim should focus on creating more opportunities to be more active throughout the day. Remember, the recommended step count is not a definitive measure of your overall health, there are many other fitness options to try if walking is not your bag.
The importance of nutrition
It's essential to find a healthy balance between physical activity, nutrition, and well-being. Your health journey needs to focus on a balanced diet full of nutrient-dense foods to support your body, as well as finding levels of physical activity suited to your age and current fitness levels.
The recommended step count can vary based on age and individual fitness goals. Although 10,000 steps per day is a popular benchmark, it may only suit some walks of life.
Aim for the advised 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week and gradually increase the number of steps you walk — in line with your current abilities and future aims. Listen to your body, find ways of building up to 10,000 steps by making small, actionable daily changes, and each step you take counts towards a healthier you.
- Journal of Health Research. Evidence behind 10000 steps walking.
- Clinical and Investigative Medicine. Daily goal of 10000 steps: a literature review.
- Human Kinetics Journal. Walking towards a new me: the impact of prescribed walking 10000 steps/day on physical and psychological well-being.
- American Journal of Health Promotion. Effects of 10,000 steps per day goal in overweight adults.
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Pedometer measured physical activity and health behaviors in United States adults.
Show all references
- Obesity Facts. 'Small changes' to diet and physical activity behaviors for weight management.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?
- Harvard Health Publishing 10,000 steps a day — or fewer?