How Many Daily Steps Do You Really Need for Better Health?​

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How Many Daily Steps Do You Really Need for Better Health?​

It takes 28 steps to walk from your bedroom to your refrigerator and 317 to get to work. If you manage to rack up even a couple thousand steps between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., it’s a pretty good day. Time to hit the gym if you’re going to get 10,000 steps, appease your fitness tracker and edge out your friends on the step-count leaderboard.

But do you really need to hit 10,000 steps per day for better health? Short answer: Not really.

What You Need to Know About the 10,000-Step Recommendation

Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed with the name “manpo-kei,” which means “10,000 steps meter,” according to a Sports Medicine review. Just like that, the number stuck.

And while the original 10,000-step recommendation was anything but scientific, overall, it holds up pretty well in helping the general population improve their health, says Daniel Neides, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. On average, healthy adults take between 4,000–18,000 steps per day, according to a review from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. And in a 2015 PLOS ONE study, people who increased the number of daily steps from 1,000 to 10,000 cut their risk of death by 46%.

“What we know is that 10,000 steps equates to about 4–5 miles, or an hour to an hour and 15 minutes of brisk walking,” Neides says. “That’s about the midway point of what we are looking for from people in terms of physical activity.” To prevent cardiovascular disease, the sweet spot is 20 minutes–2 hours of aerobic exercise per day, says Neides, noting that heart disease, the number 1 cause of death in the U.S., kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.

That’s why he’s way more concerned with minutes than steps. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have a step recommendation; instead it recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise like brisk walking or 75 minutes of vigorous activity like running per week. For anyone counting, that works out to anywhere from 3,500–8,000 steps per day. And, no matter how much aerobic activity you get, the CDC still recommends getting at least two hours of strength exercise per week. That raises an important point: Dumbbells lifted don’t count toward your step count, but they make huge improvements to your overall health, Neides says.

Hit Your Perfect Step Count

In the end, as long as you are more active today than you were yesterday — whether that means steps counted, minutes active or weights moved — you’re going to get healthier, Neides says. Improving health is about just that: improving, rather than hitting a magic number.

Case in point: In the PLOS ONE study, people who increased their daily step count from 1,000 to just 3,000 steps per day, five days a week, reduced their risk of death by 12%.

“If a previously sedentary person is getting 3-, 5-, 7,000 steps, that’s outstanding! I don’t care if it’s not 10,000,” Neides says. “And for people with some health conditions, 10,000 might not even be healthy.” Plus, some people just enjoy stepless workouts like weight lifting more than walking or running. No matter what, the best workout is the one you’ll stick with.

But, if you are already relatively healthy and active, there’s no reason to stop at 10,000. According to Neides, as long as you cap your aerobic exercise (including walking) at about two hours, 20,000 steps or 10 miles of brisk walking, your health will likely benefit. After that, maybe not so much. In a recent study in the European Heart Journal, people who ran seven miles per hour or faster for 2.5 miles or more per week actually did more harm than good to their overall health.

But however many steps you decide to take, they won’t score you better health if the rest of your lifestyle isn’t up to snuff. “For real benefit, steps have to be done in tandem with healthy eating, good sleep and stress management,” Neides says.

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  • Most days, when I carry my iPhone, I hit between 6000 & 10000 steps. Good to know I’m in the sweetspot.

    No need to be disappointed on the 9000+ days.

  • Megan Harries

    You misinterpreted the jogging study. It states that more than 2.5 HOURS per week gave the same outcome as being sedentary – not 2.5 miles.

    • Kd

      I agree. That doesnt even sound right: if you can run 8 min miles, it’s bad… don’t see too many runners with health issues. I would have left that part out altogether.

      • Oldcargirl62

        Except the famous Jim Fix who died of a heart attack. Runners have health problems too, just fewer of them brought on from a desteuctive lifestyle.

        • Pitcher23

          Fixx’s father died from heart disease at 42 and had his first heart attack at 35. Fixx himself was a smoker and overweight well into his 30’s, until he adopted a healthier lifestyle and took up running. It’s possible he prolonged his life by a decade by running, despite a family history of early death from heart disease.

    • Debra

      Yes, I read the European Heart Journal study article that the author linked to.
      Very interesting.
      Glad to know that I don’t need to worry about running more than 3 days per week! 🙂

  • Ella

    Risk of death? Am fairly certain you can’t reduce the ‘risk’ of death… it’s going to happen no matter how much you move!

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  • Mark Du Ree

    Written to appease the masses, I’m sure. Did they happen to ask the Japanese researchers and inventors why they invented a 10,000 step meter instead of a five thousand step meter? I’m sure they also did some research into health. True, some healthy people won’t hit 10,000 per day, like guys and gals who prefer rowing or cycling or cross fit to walking and running, but they are doing a “10k step equivalent” or more. Personally, I’ve struggled with weight issues, even when getting 10k a day or 70k per week. I’m pleased to report that after upping that to more like 15k per day along with some nutritional adjustments, I’m doing much better. I still have 10 pounds or so to drop, but without a lot of running, walking, and yardwork, that can’t and won’t happen.

    • It’s the same mentality as the recent idea that you need 10,000 hours of effort to master a skill. There’s no hard research behind it, but it’s a nice big round number that gets peoples’ attention.

  • Michael R Woodall

    I do agree that the counting of steps is often given too much attention, misinterpreted and there are other areas to focus on, but as a weight loss specialist, I find articles like this to almost encourage sedentary life. The minimum time recommendations mentioned are also followed with the inclusion of active lifestyle activities, which is where the steps come in. You can’t just get an hour of any exercise and sit the rest of the day. The key is to set goals to increase both steps (or activities in our lifestyle that promote movement like daily chores, parking further from the building, etc.) as well as making the minimum recommendations for exercise (and hopefully more).

    • Flomulous

      For a person sitting at a desk job and not doing anything but walking to the parking lot, getting 1 hour of real exercise every day is a VAST improvement, other than that, though, I agree with you.

  • Kelly

    How long do you have to continue this regimen? This special offer is for a 30 day supply, but thereafter it costs $90 a month for each product ($180!). What’s the key to success — continue taking these products, or use this as a jumpstart to modifying your lifestyle in order to retain the weight loss?

    • disqus_82tSxMf7lO

      What are you talking about?

  • cmouse

    I always thought the chance of death was 100%.

  • Josef

    I base my walking exercise for every other day. What has helped me immensely has been my Fitbit tracker. A little exercise done every day will keep you in the game of exercise, but if you are looking to lose weight as I did (80 pounds) a person needs to push themselves to burn more calories going out than putting in. You can’t start heavy exercise at an older age, but you do need to set goals that are within reason for your age and weight. I always tell people I advise, it took awhile putting on the weight, and it will take some time to take it off.

  • Dave C

    “And in a 2015 PLOS ONE study, people who increased the number of daily steps from 1,000 to 10,000 cut their risk of death by 46%.”
    Who would have thought that immortality was so simple!

  • Petra Schuster

    I can’t belive this ” people who ran seven miles per hour or faster for 2.5 miles or more per week actually did more harm than good to their overall health.”
    Just 2.5 mile per week should be harmful with 7/Miles/Hour? So nearly all jogger should stopp jogging at once. 😉

  • Petra Schuster

    Some day some people are not always able to make 10000 steps, an other day maybe more. I think it is important, to start to not taking elevators and leave your car at home as often as you can, rise every hour from your desk (at work als well as at home) and so on. But for some people it is not always posible to make 10000 steps a day. And when my mom works all day in her garden, stooping all the time, she is in move but wouldn’t make very many steps ;-).

  • Thomas Pedersen

    Who can walk 10,000 steps in an hour?!?

    When I walk to music with 126 bpm, I am straining to move my legs that fast. It feels like on the limit of natural walking. 126 steps per minute is 7,560 steps per hour. In 1 h 15 m, it becomes 9,450 steps, so not even it the upper boundary of “brisk walking” can I keep up. And I clock 4.5 mph, which is quite fast for regular walking.

  • There is one important point that nobody seems to care about. Ageing. I am 68, exercise 2/3 hours weekly and walk about half an hour daily. I do not know if that is right for me, since all “better health” notes seem to be written for young people,( 20 to 45?) but I listen to my body and stay faithful to its wishes.