If you are a smart watch/phone user, I’m sure you’ve heard it somewhere before that you should be aiming to get 10,000 steps each day for optimal health. As the trend for wearable fitness devices increases, adding more and more features on each one, so does the fascination with daily step counts. It’s easy to see why. It’s a form of physical activity that is simple enough to measure and results are shown in real time. Just throw on your watch and periodically throughout the day you can get instant feedback to just how active you are. Not to mention many of these devices can even send you reminders to stand or become more active if you’ve been sitting for an extended amount of time.
But where does this idea of 10,000 come from? What’s so magical about that number? Let’s talk about where that originated from. In 1964 after the Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company (Yamasa Corporation) created a new step-tracker. At the time surrounding the Olympics there was an increased focus on physical fitness in Japanese culture. The pedometer was named Manpo-Kei which is translated as “10,000 step meter”. This soon became the benchmark and was used in their marketing campaign to promote increased physical activity.
So if there is no scientific data promoting 10,000 steps/day, what should you aim for? The answer to that depends on your current state of health and what is most important to you.
Recent studies have shown us that general health benefits tend to increase alongside an increase in step count until about 7,500 steps/day. This showed for most people averaging over 7,500 steps/day did not have any greater health outcomes. One study showed that just by increasing your daily step count from under 3,000 steps/day to over 4,000 steps/day was associated with a 41% reduction in mortality rates. So even increasing by a little can have a huge effect on your health. If you are elderly or suffer from bone loss or thinning, this can make a huge different on frailty as well.
When it comes to Heart Disease and Metabolic disease, individuals who average less than 5,000 steps/day are shown to be at highest risk. These reports also showed greatest benefits around 7,500 steps/day. If you fall into this category of people, your personal goal may be more like 5,000-7,500 to decrease your risk for developing heart disease complications.
Reports looking at Diabetes, Insulin Resistance and Impaired Fasting Glucose showed that increasing by 2,000 steps/day above starting baseline is associate with greater insulin sensitivity, lower waist-to-hip ratios, and lower overall BMI. Also, each additional 2,000 steps were associated with 6% lower risk of progression to diabetes over 5 year follow-up. This is just another argument for how making small changes from wherever you are currently can make a big impact.
This leads us into those who are looking to see changes in body composition or weight loss. Those reports tend to show the higher steps counts of 7,500 – 9,500 steps/day to be most optimal. As weight loss is of the most popular goals when it comes to health and fitness, perhaps this is another reason many people have the rule of 10,000 on their minds.
In conclusion, more is better. It does appear most individuals see near maximal benefits at around 6,000-8,000 steps/day. 10,000 is great if you are already easily achieving that, but if you are not, starting with a lower number can still be beneficial. Even increasing your daily step count by just 1,000 can impart additional health benefits, especially for sedentary individuals.
It’s easy to get fixated on one particular number and think that if you are not getting 10,000 steps/day that you aren’t seeing any health benefits, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
For most, 30 minutes of moderate pace walking is equivalent to 2,500-3,000 steps. If you’re looking for an easy way to increase your activity levels, consider carving out some time for a nice 30min walk outdoors.