Is 10,000 steps per day the right number to set as the daily target on your pedometer? You may wonder where that number came from and whether it is a good goal for most people. Does it really indicate that you are getting enough exercise for fitness, enough to reduce health risks and support weight loss?
Why Is 10,000 Steps the Magic Number?
A goal of 10,000 steps per day was created as a promotion by a pedometer company in Japan in the 1960s and it became popular as it was adopted by walking clubs.
It wasn’t based on research. It just sounded good.
Once the goal of 10,000 steps per day was established, researchers played catch-up and found it was a good indicator you were getting somewhere near the recommended amount of physical activity during that day to reduce health risks. Now many activity monitors and pedometer apps use it as a standard goal.
Are 10,000 Steps Enough or Too Much?
Many of the more sophisticated pedometers and activity trackers also measure whether the steps you take are brisk enough to meet the standard of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. They include a daily goal of 30 minutes of this enhanced level of activity, as recommended to reduce health risks. If 3,000 of the steps you take each day are at a pace of 100 per minute for at least 10 minutes, you will meet this goal.
Even a small increase in steps per day above being inactive can make a difference in health.
Numbers as low as 6,000 steps per day were shown to correlate with a lower death rate in men. Experts view 10,000 steps per day as too few for children. But 10,000 steps can be too challenging for people who are elderly, sedentary, or who have chronic diseases.
How Active Are You Based on How Many Steps per Day You Walk?
Catrine Tudor-Locke of the University of Massachusetts has been studying pedometer walking for many years.
Her research established these categories for healthy adults based on the steps per day they logged.
- Sedentary Lifestyle Index: Under 5,000 steps per day is an indicator of being inactive and sitting too much, which raises health risks.
- Low Active: 5,000 to 7,499 steps per day is typical of daily activity excluding sports and exercise and might be considered low active. The average American walks 5,900 to 6,900 steps per day, putting the majority in the low active category.
- Somewhat Active: 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day likely includes some exercise or walking (and/or a job that requires more walking) and might be considered somewhat active.
- Active: 10,000 steps per day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as active. This makes it a good daily goal for healthy people who want a quick indicator they are getting in their daily exercise.
- Highly Active: Individuals who take more than 12,500 steps/day are likely to be classified as highly active.
Increasing Your Daily Steps to Add the Equivalent of 30 Minutes of Walking
Instead of using a blanket 10,000 steps per day as a goal, some suggest your personal goal should be based on your usual baseline plus incremental steps.
Adding 2,000 to 4,000 steps to your daily count is a good indicator you are getting the recommended amount of daily activity or increasing activity to burn more calories.
Let’s look at the example of Sara, who puts on a pedometer in the morning and wears it as she goes about her usual daily activities and only takes it off before bedtime. She does this for a few days and notes that she logs around 4,000 steps per day. Her goal should be adding an equivalent of a half hour of walking to her day. The number of steps she would log in 30 minutes is from 2,000 to 4,000, depending on whether she walk slower or faster.
That’s between one and two miles of walking. See how many steps are in a miledepending on your height and stride length.
What Should Your Pedometer Step Count Goal Be?
While Tudor-Locke advises a goal of 10,000 steps per day as a good baseline, she offers other tips in order to match physical activity recommendations for heart health. Increase your daily steps by 3,000 to 4,000 steps taken during bouts of 10-minutes or longer at moderate-to-vigorous intensity, which is a pace of brisk walking to jogging. Achieve a goal of 8,900 to 9,900 steps at least five days per week with at least 3,000 steps of moderate-to-vigorous intensity bouts of 10 minutes or more.
Alternatively, set a goal of 9,150 to 10,150 steps at least three days per week with at least 3,250 steps of vigorous intensity bouts of 10 minutes or more. Adding just 2,000 more steps to your day can prevent weight gain, according to Dr. James O. Hill of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
It can be daunting to set a pedometer goal of 10,000 steps and see yourself falling short most of the time. This isn’t surprising, as the average American logs from 5,000 to 7,000 steps per day. But if you want to get enough physical activity to reduce your health risks and manage your weight, you should find ways to increase your daily pedometer step count towards a goal of 10,000 or more.
Your goal can be an incentive to ensure you are getting 30 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise and reducing long periods of sitting.
Tudor-Locke C. Steps to Better Cardiovascular Health: How Many Steps Does It Take to Achieve Good Health and How Confident Are We in This Number? Curr Cardio Risk Rep (2010) 4:271–276 DOI 10.1007/s12170-010-0109-5
Tudor-Locke C, Craig CL, Brown WJ, et al. How many steps/day are enough? For adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8(1):79. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-79.
Tudor-Locke C, Schuna JM, Han H, et al. Step-based physical activity metrics and Cardiometabolic risk. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.