Whether your wrist is decked out with a fancy fitness tracker or not, likely you’ve heard somewhere, at some point or another, that you should aim to take 10,000 steps per day. But is that really true?
Here’s what you need to know about where the “10,000 steps a day” advice came from, what its proposed benefits are, and how to best get your steps in.
The History Of ’10,000 Steps’
Ready to be surprised? Turns out, the 10,000 steps recommendation didn’t originally come from doctors, as many might think.
Instead, the step goal was actually popularized by social walking clubs in Japan in the 1960s when pedometers (a.k.a. step counters) first hit the scene. “These clubs picked the 10,000 step goal arbitrarily,” says Dr. Luiza Petre M.D., board-certified cardiologist and weight management specialist. Yep, you read that right: arbitrarily.
High enough to sound impressive but low enough to be achievable, the number caught on. And as a result of its popularity, researchers began studying the benefits of logging 10,000 daily steps—not the other way around!
The Benefits Of Walking 10,000 Steps A Day
The ensuing research on hitting 10,000 steps a day suggested those Japanese walkers were seriously onto something.
In fact, according to a 2016 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, walking 10,000 steps a day has the power to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety, reduce instances of mental fatigue and confusion, and support a healthy body weight.
Read More: 8 Cardio Myths It’s Time To Stop Believing
10,000 doesn’t seem to be the universal magic number, though. One 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, for example, found walking 7,500 steps a day to be just as effective at reducing the risk of all-cause mortality as walking 10,000. The researchers even associated walking as few as 4,400 steps per day with positive health outcomes.
Of course, there’s certainly no downside to walking 10,000 steps (or more!) per day. On the contrary, assuming local air quality is safe and walking doesn’t cause you pain, Petre always recommends opting to move your body more.
So How Many Steps Should You Be Taking?
Ultimately, the ideal number of daily steps for you depends a lot on your health status and fitness goals, Petre says.
If you want to improve your overall fitness, how much you need to walk varies based on your current fitness and activity level, explains trainer and certified nutrition coach Esther Avant, C.P.T. Someone who only walks 3,000 steps a day and is otherwise pretty sedentary, for example, will see great improvements by beginning to walk 6,000 steps, she says. However, someone who already walks 10,000 steps a day and takes a spin class four days a week would be better served by adding a day of strength training to their routine instead of trying to further increase their steps.
If you want to lose weight, meanwhile, walking more can help. “Losing weight is all about having a negative net calorie balance,” Petre explains. The average person burns just about 100 calories per mile (that’s about 2,000 steps) walked. So, hitting 10,000 steps a day would equal about 500 calories torched, says Avant. Combine that with healthy decisions in the kitchen and you can certainly lose weight over time.
Ultimately, though, “your age and health status dictate how many steps you can and should walk each day,” Petre says. Instead of picking a daily goal willy-nilly, chat with your doctor or a certified fitness professional about what makes sense.
It’s also important to “find the daily step goal that is doable and not overly disruptive to your life, ” says Avant. “For most, that’s somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 steps.”
If you live in a city and already walk a lot every day, you may be able to hit 10,000 steps no problem. If you work long hours at a desk job, though, you simply may not have time to get that many steps in.
How To Walk More Every Single Day
Once you’ve set your new daily step goal—whether it’s 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000—use these tips to hit it day after day.
1. Wear A Tracker
Budget-permitting, investing in (and wearing!) a step tracker can promote increased activity by making you aware of how active you really are, says Avant. Most people are surprised by how sedentary their lifestyle really is, she says. Becoming conscious of that often encourages them to walk more.
In fact, according to a 2015 release by the American Council on Exercise, people who track their steps take an average of 2,500 more steps per day than those who don’t.
2. Increase Your Step Goal Slowly
If you average 2,000 steps a day over the course of a week, abruptly trying to walk five times that much will feel overwhelming, Avant says. To combat that, she recommends increasing your daily step goal by 500 steps each week.
3. Park Farther Away
Consider this: There are 2,000 steps in a mile. If you park 200 meters (one-eighth of a mile) away from the grocery store, you log 250 steps before entering the building. You’ll also log another 250 returning to your car. Just like that, you’ve got another 500 steps under your belt. (And that doesn’t even include all the steps you logged perusing the aisles inside the store!). Easy-peasy, right?
Another perk: Assuming you have family members or other loved ones who accompany you while you’re out and about, this lifestyle tweak gets the whole crew in on the action.
4. Try Multitasking
Instead of plopping on the couch, why not go on a walk during your weekly phone call with your mom? Instead of a coffee catch-up date, why not grab coffee and then go walk around the neighborhood?
“Incorporating walking into the things you already do every single day can make reaching the goal both more pleasurable and achievable,” says Avant. Doing this also increases the likelihood that it becomes part of your long-term lifestyle—and that, really, is the true goal.
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