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.