Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps Per Day?
How many steps do you actually need?
When it comes to being fit and healthy, the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps per day has been around for decades. The 10,000 step goal is still the pre-programmed activity goal on many pedometers and fitness monitors. Even the Fitbit uses 10,000 steps per day as its default setting, no matter your age, sex or physical condition.
But as a Brookfield chiropractor, I’m often asked whether walking 10,000 steps every day actually improves your health or if it’s just another pop culture fitness myth.
Here’s what the science says.
Where did 10,000 steps per day come from?
The 10,000 daily steps recommendation was actually a marketing campaign developed by the Japanese company that first commercialized the pedometer in the 1960’s. It wasn’t rooted in science – at all – but simply based on a coincidence that the Japanese characters for ‘10000 steps meter’ looked a bit like a walking man.
The marketing scheme was wildly successful, popularizing the 10,000 steps per day recommendation to become the default daily exercise goal that still persists today.
Is 10,000 steps per day a “magic number”?
There’s nothing particularly special about the 10,000 steps number – a recommendation that works out to about 5 miles per day. Realistically, though, 10,000 steps is probably overkill. While it’s an easy number to remember, most studies looking at daily steps and longevity have found that the benefits of walking plateau at about 7 or 8 thousand steps per day.
The average American gets around 5,000 steps per day just from everyday activities like shopping and housework, so bumping that number up with a daily 20 minute walk around the neighborhood is a worthwhile addition to your daily routine.
But again, there’s no magic number of steps you need to be getting every day to get the health benefits of walking. 1000 is better than 0, and 2000 is better than 1000.
Walking: Good for your body and your brain
Regular walking is linked to a reduced risk of dying from almost everything. A 2020 study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that taking 8,000 to 12,000 steps per day was associated with a decreased chance of dying from any cause throughout the trial, when compared to those who only took 4,000 steps per day. No additional benefits were seen with more steps.
A separate study found that women who hit at least 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates over a four-year period than those who walked 2,700 steps or less.
But walking isn’t just good for your body; it benefits your brain too.
Research has shown that daily walking is associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and another found that outdoor walks could be “useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments” for major depressive disorder. Studies have even shown that regular walking can improve neuroplasticity, memory and learning.
Walk faster, live longer
While even low-intensity walking can have its benefits, there’s a reason World Health Organization recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week.
Research involving 50,000 adults found that faster walking speeds were associated with much lower mortality rates than slow walkers. Faster walkers — those who average 3 miles per hour (a 20-minute mile) — can expect to live 15 to 20 years longer than slower walkers, or those who average 2 mph (a 30-minute mile.) A frequently accepted threshold for making your walk a moderately intensive exercise is 100 steps per minute.
Just as important as how many steps you take? Time spent sitting
One essential element that science has shown can make a major difference in your health actually has nothing to do with how many steps you walk and everything to do with how much time you spend sitting. Studies show that sitting for long periods of time is itself unhealthy, even if you hit your daily activity goals.
Breaking up your workday with short walks can be incredibly helpful in reversing the damage caused by sitting for hours every day.
Is pain preventing you from being active?
Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or just looking to tone up, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of correcting problems, reducing pain and reaching your full potential.