A senior woman with cancer walks with her adult daughter at sunset down a rural road. They are relaxing and staying active together. The affectionate pair are talking and walking with arms linked.
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Health Mythbusting: is 10,000 steps a day really the magic number?

May 19, 2023
13 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Wellness mythbusting

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. The idea came from a marketer, not a doctor.

Does that mean it should be thrown out? No, the 10,000 steps a day idea has started a renewed interest in being active, and that’s always a good thing.

How long does it take to walk 10,000 steps?

If you’re wondering how to get 10,000 steps in a day, the first question to ask is how to fit in the extra time to increase your average steps per day. Knowing how long it takes to get those steps is helpful.

The answer to this question depends on how long your stride is and how quickly you can walk. 

On average, people take 100 steps per minute. This is a pace of about 3 miles per hour, which is a fast walk. If you can keep up that pace for the entire 10,000 steps, then it will take 100 minutes, or 1 hour and 40 minutes, to walk it.

How many miles is 10,000 steps?

The number of miles you’ll cover with 10,000 steps is going to vary based on how long your steps are. Someone with a long stride is going to cover more ground in their 10,000 steps than someone with a shorter stride. A child will cover less ground with 10,000 steps than an adult because of their smaller stride. 

That said, for the average adult, 10,000 steps is about 5 miles or 8 kilometers. If you’re trying to add to your average steps per day by adding walking exercise, knowing how many steps are on your walk is helpful. If you take a 2-mile walk to increase your step count, you’ll likely be taking 3,000 to 4,000 steps on that walk.

Because of the variance in the number of miles you'll cover by walking 10,000 steps a day, measuring steps is more effective than measuring distance. You'll receive the benefits of increased walking, including increased flexibility, increased blood flow, better heart health, improved balance and increased range of motion, as long as you're striving for that 10,000 mark, even if your distance falls short of the 5-mile average.

Keep in mind that 10,000 steps is a goal that works well for many people, but it’s not the best goal for every person. The benefits of walking more happen if you increase your energy expenditure, even if 10,000 steps a day is out of reach. 

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?

senior Black woman enjoying morning run in park

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

A multi-ethnic group of senior adults are walking together on a trail through the park.

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. By adding a few small steps now, you’ll find the count on your fitness tracker increasing substantially. 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.‍
  • Listen while walking - If you’re going to listen to music or a podcast, take a walk while you do. This will add more steps to your day, and you’ll still get to listen to what you enjoy.
  • Walk while watching TV - If you’re in the habit of watching TV to unwind at the end of the day, consider adding some walking. Walk in place, or load the show onto a tablet or phone to watch while on the treadmill. You’ll log a lot of steps during a one-hour show.
  • Get up earlier - Getting up 15 minutes earlier to take a short walk before starting your day could add 1,000 to 2,000 steps to your daily routine, depending on how quickly you walk. Again, little changes add up over time.
  • Walk while you wait - If you're waiting for an appointment, step to a quiet corner and walk in place, or pace the hallway. Any time you’re sitting without something you need to do, consider walking instead of sitting.
  • Talk on the phone and walk - If you need to take a phone call, put on a Bluetooth headset and walk the neighborhood while you talk. This is another instance when you don't need to just sit, but can get some steps in while you’re doing something else.
  • Change your entertainment - Instead of choosing to play on the computer or watch TV, use your free time to explore your local park or farmer’s market. Active, outdoor activities will help you log more steps, even while having some fun.

The key is to find little places to add steps to your day. In just 10 minutes, you can add 1,000 to your step count. All it takes is a little creativity. 

In addition, try to break up your walks. Don’t try to get all of your steps in one epic walk. Instead, find 10 to 15 minutes at a time where you can walk, and you’ll find the process feels easier, even when the outcome is the same. Quick walks and workouts almost always feel less overwhelming than longer ones.

After looking for small places to add steps to your day, you may start noticing the benefits of increased activity. If you want more, consider these more detailed steps. 

1. Get into a routine

Having a routine is the key to being more active. Once you’re in the habit, you’ll find it easier to get a higher step count each day.

The researchers at MIT found that the cue-routine-reward system is highly effective at building neurological connections that make something into a habit. To do this, you need:

  • Cue - The cue is something that triggers the thought to work out. For instance, if you want to work out in the morning, your morning alarm could be your cue. Tie the activity into the cue regularly until it becomes a habit.
  • Routine - Next, make it a routine. The routine is a habit or action that you do every time to make sure you’re active. Then, do the activity, such as taking your walk. Consistency is the key to making this a habit.
  • Reward - The reward is something tangible that makes you feel good about doing the activity. Sometimes, all you need is the endorphins your body makes. However, some people need a more tangible reward. Don’t reward yourself with something unhealthy, like dessert, but rather something that further supports your routine, like new workout clothes after being consistent for a month. Another option is to use Evidation, which will put your rewards on autopilot. Our members earn rewards for the steps they take.

If you go through the cue-routine-reward cycle multiple times, you’re likely to build a habit. Soon, walking will be something you're so used to, you don't even think about it, and you're getting your steps in on a more regular basis.

Habit stacking can also work well. To do this, stack your walking habits with something you already do every day. Since the first item is already a routine, you'll be able to add the new one more easily.

For instance, if you sit and listen to a podcast daily, grab some earbuds and listen while you walk. You’ll add up steps more quickly and not have to add something new to your daily routine.

2. Start small and build

One of the reasons many people find starting new exercise routines challenging is they try to start too big. Instead of taking on a large goal, start with increasing your steps in small increments each week, until you see yourself with a large jump in the number of steps you’re taking.

Before you begin, get a step tracker to log your daily steps on an average day. Aim to increase 1,000 steps a week until you reach your personal goal, whether that’s 5,000 steps, 7,000 steps or 10,000 steps.

Start with adding an evening or morning walk, using the routine building system mentioned above. Once that’s a habit, add another walk at another time of day. Soon you’ll be closer to reaching your step goals by building a little at a time.

3. Build walking into your workday

Are there places in your workday where you can be active?

This doesn't have to look like taking a mile walk on your lunch break. It can be small changes that add steps to your day and reduce the amount of time you spend sitting at your desk.

For instance, instead of sending an email to your coworker, can you walk across the office to talk in person? When you have a one-on-one meeting, if it doesn't require a computer, have the meeting while you and your coworker take a walk.

4. Grab a friend

You’ll be more likely to stick with your walking goals if you do it with a friend. Having a friend will be an accountability piece, and you’ll find the walking more enjoyable as you socialize.

While the goal of getting more steps doesn't have anything to do with intensity, you might find that you walk faster and get more cardio in along with your steps, and you track more in a shorter period of time. Check out more ideas for increasing your cardiovascular health while you’re also working to increase your steps.

How many steps per day should I walk to achieve better health?

To sum it up, there’s no evidence or research that shows 10,000 steps is the optimal walking goal for health. In fact, the magic number of steps for one person may be different from another’s.

But that doesn’t change the fact that more steps could be better. What’s true is that walking more carries many health benefits. 

If you’re getting 2,000 steps a day, increasing to 5,000 steps is going to improve your strength and cardiovascular health. But if you add a beneficial yoga routine to your exercise routine, and get fewer steps, you’re still getting increased health benefits.The key is to get more active.

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’s no standard number that every single person should be aiming for. It changes based on several factors. These factors include:

  • Your current fitness and activity level
  • Other activities you do to stay active
  • Health conditions you might have

To determine the best step count to aim for, talk to your doctor, and then start walking!

Remember, 10,000 steps may be a bit of a health myth, but it has shed light on the fact that society lends itself toward sedentary living, and being more active is beneficial to your health.

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!

Start getting rewards for tracking your steps with Evidation

At Evidation, we’re here to help you get the rewards you need to get active and take better care of your health. We make it easy and fun to stay active, and let you earn cash at the same time.

Evidation connects with multiple step-tracking apps to reward you for making positive changes to your health. Whether or not you choose to reach for 10,000 steps a day, you can get rewards for making active choices. Sync your step tracker with Evidation, and start earning points you can redeem for cash.

Wellness mythbusting
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