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Health Mythbusting: is 10,000 steps a day really the magic number?

August 31, 2022
5 minutes
Fitness & Exercise

According to the CDC, walking is the most popular form of aerobic physical activity. 

From maintaining a healthy weight to strengthening bones and muscles, walking is a powerful way to take care of your body.

And many of us have heard that we should aim for 10,000 steps a day to really see health benefits.

But is there truth to this?

Or is it just a myth? 

In today’s article, we’ll be diving deep into the concept of whether 10,000 steps a day is the magic number for health or not. We’ll share where this idea comes from, whether it truly is the magic number, and more. Keep reading to learn the truth!

Where does the 10,000 steps a day idea come from?

Whether you heard it from a friend, or read it on a fitness app, this message has been circling the health community for some time now. 

But here’s the truth. 

There doesn’t appear to be any scientific data that 10,000 steps a day is the optimal goal for health.

In fact, the whole idea might actually stem from an old marketing strategy used by a Japanese Pedometer company in the 1960s. 

Is 10,000 steps really the magic number?

One study followed 2,110 adults with an average follow-up of 10.8 years. During this study, people taking at least 7,000 steps a day compared to those taking less than 7,000 steps a day had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality.

This doesn’t give any evidence that 10,000 steps is the magic number. But it does indicate that more exercise is better than less. 

So is 10,000 steps the magic number or not?

Amanda Paluch, a lead researcher studying the link between how many steps people take and cardiovascular disease, led a team that analyzed seven earlier studies that followed participants who wore step counters and tracked their cardiovascular health.

They brought all the studies together for a more diverse sample. They found that as the number of steps increased, the risk of cardiovascular disease decreased. 

But the message isn’t that 10,000 steps is the magical number.

The message is to move more.

Paluch goes on to explain that just increasing your steps incrementally could be helpful to your cardiovascular health. So, we shouldn’t get caught up in a set goal of 10,000 steps or any other number. 

There is no “all or nothing” when it comes to the benefits we get from walking.  

How many steps a day should you be getting?

So how many steps should we be getting every day?

Anything below 4,000 steps a day is considered a low level of physical activity. So, if you’re regularly walking less than that, and if you aren’t limited by mobility or health conditions that prevent you from walking more, it might be a good idea to step up your step count. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to push for 10,000 each day. 

Certain health benefits from walking are prevalent way before we reach 10,000, especially for those who are inactive or have low levels of activity. 

Here’s the takeaway.

The number of steps you should take each day depends on several factors. 

Your age, health, present fitness levels, and fitness goals can all directly affect the appropriate amount of steps you should be aiming for. 

The CDC’s recommendations for the amount of physical activity you should aim for are based on your current fitness level. 

There are 4 levels of aerobic activity the CDC refers to:

  • Inactive - this means that there’s no extra physical activity taking place besides the basic movements required for daily life. 
  • Insufficiently active - this is when someone does a moderate amount of exercise. Either less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. 
  • Active - this is the equivalent of someone doing 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This is the key guideline target range for healthy adults. 
  • Highly active - this is when someone does more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 

But what does moderate-intensity exercise include? 

Moderate-intensity is anything from brisk walking to house and yard work. This means we can achieve 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity by walking. 

And according to the American College of Sports Medicine, 7,000 to 9,000 steps a day may be the equivalent of the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of activity each week.

If you’re inactive or insufficiently active, it may be challenging to work towards a goal of 7,000 to 9,000 steps right away. It might be best to slowly work your way up. 

As time progresses, and you begin to learn your physical capabilities, you can start to aim for a particular number. 

If you deal with certain health conditions, it may be best to consult with a healthcare professional to learn about precautions you should take.

How to add more steps in your day

Taking more steps in your day might seem like a hard thing to do, but there are actually many ways you can incorporate more walking into your daily life. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take the stairs - avoiding elevators and escalators or anything that decreases how much you walk could be a great way to naturally add more steps into your day.
  • Walk with a dog or friend - taking some time out of your day to walk your dog can be a great way to clear your head while also adding in more steps and getting your dog to exercise. And if you don’t have a dog, it might be a great chance to spend some time with a friend and catch up!
  • Park further away or walk rather than drive - whether you’re taking a trip to the grocery store or meeting up at a friend's house, taking time to take those extra steps either by walking or parking further away from your destination might be a great way to add more steps into your daily routine.

Conclusion - Is 10,000 steps a day really the magic number?

To sum it up, there’s no evidence or research that shows 10,000 steps is the optimal walking goal for health.

But that doesn’t change the fact that more steps could be better. 

Although we shouldn’t get caught up in the number of steps we should be taking, we can strive to get better each and every day, one step at a time.

Whether that means you aim for 6,000 steps a day or 5,000, there is no standard number that every single person should be aiming for. It changes based on several factors.

This is just one of the many topics we’ll be tackling in the coming months. Be sure to watch for future articles where we’ll be breaking down more common health myths. 

We’ll be speaking on topics like whether apple cider vinegar can help you lose weight, and if an apple a day really does keep the doctor away! 

Stay tuned for more!