Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps a day for good health?

Heard that you should aim for 10,000 steps a day? “That was a business slogan that started in the 1960s when a Japanese company introduced a pedometer named ‘10,000 steps meter’ in Japanese,” says researcher Catrine Tudor-Locke.

So how many steps should we take each day?

“If you walk at least 7,500 steps a day, you’re in the money because you’re likely to be meeting  the national guidelines for physical activity,” she says. Those guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise.  “Walking includes stepping, running, hopping, dancing, anything that’s moving with one step following the other,” she explains.

Tudor-Locke studies how the physical activity recommendations translate into daily steps at the Walking Behavior Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Walk more?

Walking more than 7,500 steps a day is fantastic, but not necessary, Catrine-Tudor notes. “It’s not like there’s a single value where the heavens open up and the angels sing or anything like that, it’s a continuum.”

However, more is better. “We know that the health benefits from walking are greater as you increase the number of steps,” she says. “But the nice thing about walking is that you get a big return for even a small investment if you’re starting out with a smaller number of steps and you increase that even modestly.”

How are we doing?

Adults in the United States average only 5,000 to 6,000 steps per day, the lowest level of any industrialized country that has collected data. “Falling below 5,000 steps is definitely a red flag and less than 2,500 steps a day is a very big concern,” she cautions. It puts you at greater risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and for premature death.

The real power walkers appear to be the Amish. “They don’t use motorized equipment, they don’t use electricity, so they follow a lifestyle that we may have lived in the past,” says Tudor-Locke. The Amish in southern Ontario, Canada, average about 18,000 steps per day for the men and about 14,000 steps for the women.

Pace is important, too.Walking2Small

“Make sure that you walk at least 3,000 of your daily steps at a pace of more than 100 steps per minute,” Tudor-Locke advises. “People who walk at that pace in our studies are walking purposely and going someplace and this equates to moderate intensity. So 3,000 of these steps is basically the same as half an hour a day of moderate intensity exercise.”


What’s the best way to count your steps? There are many fancy devices available now, says Tudor-Locke, but you don’t need more than a simple workhorse pedometer. “It can have a single button, it should have a battery that lasts at least three years, and when you put it on and take 20 steps it says you took 19, 20, or 21, which is reasonably close, she advises. “That’s the one you want and expect to pay $20 or $25 max for it.”

Wrist-worn devices are popular now, but these give you a much higher number of steps per day than one that’s worn at the waist. “Just know that it will consistently record a high count,” she adds.

Harder to fool oneself

New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman uses a device to record his steps. “What fitness devices do, at least for me, is make it harder to lie to myself,” he wrote on his blog.

“It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve done enough walking, that shuffling around filing books is a pretty good workout.” But there’s our fitness device telling you that you walked only 6,000 steps that day. “For me, at least, the technology helps a lot, not because of the information, exactly, but because it makes self-deception harder.”

Sources: Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act.8:79, 2011; Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36:79, 2004.


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12 Replies to “Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps a day for good health?”

  1. the trouble with my wrist fitness tracker is if I have something in my hands, pushing a wheelbarrow or moving in a small area it thinks I have taken 10 steps when I really went several hundred. ..annoying when you did yard work for 3 hrs and only took 100 steps …it’s 500 steps to the burn pile one way and I made 3 trips pushing the wheel barrow LOL

    1. My FitBit program lets me add exercise manually when I know that the wrist tracker won’t record properly – for instance when I swim or do yoga. Learn more about your tracker’s software, you are likely able to work around known issues like that.

    2. I found the same thing – I actually attach my fitbit to my belt loop when I’m grocery shopping and mowing the lawn and it tracks my steps.

  2. That is exactly my complaint about my wrist fitness tracker! When I push my grandson’s stroller, I have to try and remember to swing my arm him to get a better reading. It’s very frustrating! Now I may have to go buy a waistband pedometer as well!

  3. I have a Fitbit base-model tracker that I wear on my wrist. I had read in many places that pushing a shopping cart, stroller, wheelbarrow, lawnmower, wheelchair etc., would result in fewer steps being recorded. So, my wife walked beside me holding my iPhone logged in to my Fitbit dashboard. Every step I took was instantly recorded regardless of what I was pushing. I even put my hand (wrist) in my pocket and the steps were still recorded. I also did steps standing in place without swinging my arms and the steps were recorded accurately. I also simultaneously wore my old waist clipped pedometer and the two average being less than 1.3% apart with the pedo having the higher count about half the tomes I measured. I currently average 18,873 steps per day. I’m not sure where the results about wrist worn devices not being accurate is coming from.

  4. I am very happy with my POLAR wristband as I can wear it into the swimming pool when I do aquasize. Got it at the Running Room in Calgary.

  5. My wife has a pedometer she uses to track her walking distance while I use a Garmin GPS. The Garmin is always more accurate, especially when hiking on uneven surfaces where your stride varies dependent on topography. I’m more interested in distance traveled than steps taken, e.g. knowing I hiked five miles is more meaningful to me than that I took 10K steps.

  6. I know that for me personally, 10,000 steps is not enough. If I want to eat 2000 calories of healthy food per day and keep my weight at a certain amount, in my case 133 and I am 5 foot 4, I need to walk 18,000 steps every day. And I have been doing that for many years and have never missed a day. I do of course space it out over the course of the day. I am very busy, so I combine it with reading the newspaper on my phone, as I mainly walk indoors. Or I simply do everything else I do on my phone while walking. I prefer walking indoors as opposed to doing my exercising outdoors, because of the pollution and the excessive sun outside. But if I walk outdoors, I have an app that reads the newspaper to me, so that I can watch where I’m going LOL. I can do 18000 steps everyday because I wear Crocs. They have very stylish styles and you can get them inexpensively on eBay. That is a big help for me because I never have leg fatigue and Crocs are really the only brand that is the best for me for walking this much.

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