Everyone knows that to live a healthy life we need to walk 10,000 steps a day. Or do we?
Born from a Japanese marketing campaign, this fitness goal turned into a bit of conventional wisdom. As always, things are more complicated than they seem.
Whether you are looking to lose weight, to get stronger, or simply be healthier, learning more about the "magic number" might help you do just that.
How far is 10,000 steps?
For most people, 10,000 steps equal approximately five miles or eight kilometers. It usually takes around one hour and 40 minutes to walk that distance. Of course, this varies depending on your walking speed and stride length.
It might sound overwhelming, but there is no need to take ten thousand steps in one go. Going to buy groceries, walking to work, taking the kids to school, or the dog for its daily stroll all add to the count. On top of your everyday activities, a 30-minute walk can help you achieve the 10k goal.
Why 10,000 steps?
It turns out that the holy grail of fitness goals was born as a Japanese marketing campaign. Before the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, a company selling pedometers called its device "manpo-kei" - literally "10,000-step meter". At the time, there was no science backing this number.
Considering how accessible this form of exercise is, its popularity is not surprising. You need no fancy tools, no expensive gym subscription, nor specific training. Put a pair of comfy shoes on, and you are good to go.
While 10,000 might be an arbitrary number, health experts agree on the importance of a moderately active lifestyle. In good news for the ladies, it seems like reaching the 10k goal is not necessary for them.
A study from Harvard Medical School shows a lower risk of premature death for women taking 4,400 steps per day. The benefits increase with the number of steps up to 7,500 and then level out. It is not clear, however, if the same numbers apply to men as well.
Health benefits of walking 10,000 steps per day
An increasing number of studies highlight that sitting for many hours a day contributes to a higher risk of premature death. Sitting still is so bad for health that some call it "the new smoking." It makes sense, then, to see anything that keeps us moving as a welcome contribution to our well-being.
Walking 10,000 steps daily reduces the risks of several conditions, for example, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. It also improves the general health of your cardiovascular system, reduces cholesterol, and makes you stronger and fitter.
Regular physical activity, especially outside, has a positive effect on your mental health as well. Your daily stroll helps reduce levels of stress and anxiety, risk of depression and increase your self-esteem. On top of that, some time out in the sun will provide an extra dose of precious vitamin D.
Will I lose weight by walking 10k steps?
A successful and lasting weight loss depends on a variety of factors, including your diet, quality of sleep, metabolism, and of course, physical activity. Typically, walking 10,000 steps a day burns between 2,000 to 3,500 calories. The number changes depending on your weight and walking speed.
As 3,500 calories equal about one pound of body fat, reaching the 10,000-step goal each day could help you lose half a pound to one pound per week. For better results, try a faster pace to get your heart rate up.
Of course, if weight loss is your goal, you need to keep in mind your calorie intake as well. Walking ten thousand steps without any other lifestyle changes is not a miraculous elixir. However, it can definitely be a great tool to start your weight loss process.
Do I really need to take 10k steps?
As humans, we like to have clear, black-and-white guidelines about how to live a healthy life. That is why the idea of walking 10,000 steps a day to stay fit keeps being so popular. Unfortunately, clear-cut rules rarely apply to everyone in the same way.
Many factors affect the level of physical activity you need each day, like your age, health, and your present level of fitness. If you already go jogging for 30 minutes daily, for example, you probably do not need the extra effort.
On the other hand, for many, suddenly deciding to walk five miles every day is not realistic. Most Americans walk an average of 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, so a sudden increase could even be harmful.
Your fitness goals also play an important role in the decision. To recover strength after an injury, add some movement to an inactive life, start with 1,000 extra daily steps and increase from there. With a step-counter, find out the baseline for how long you currently walk and work your way up.
Some studies also showed that three brisk 10-minute walks each day could be a good alternative to walking 10,000 steps. This way, you would walk for about 1.5 miles while getting more high-intensity exercise - and save some time.
Alternatives to walking 10,000 steps every day
As we mentioned, the key to a healthier life is to be moderately active each day. If a 10k goal does not fit your lifestyle, try some other form of physical activity instead. Ideally, you should include both 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise and a long walk each day.
Ten minutes of moderate-intensity activity count as 1,000 steps. Moderate intensity activities raise your heart rate and breathing. During these activities, you should be able to chat but not to sing. Some examples include:
Riding a bike
Sweeping the floors
Exercising at high intensity for ten minutes equals 2,000 steps. While performing these activities, you would not be able to talk in between breaths. For example, try:
Heavy work in the garden, like digging
How to take more steps daily
Even though 10,000 steps still sounds like a lot, implement some simple ideas to make the goal more achievable. Start with one of these:
Involve others, either in your family or in your social circle. Go on walks together or keep each other accountable by checking in from time to time.
Set reminders and schedule walks in your diary, so you will not forget and you will feel more committed.
Make it a habit, including it as a regular part of your day. For example, take a walk every day after lunch or before going to work.
Make it pleasant by listening to music or your favorite podcast, and avoid getting bored.
Use everyday activities to add some steps, for example, by taking the stairs, going to a colleague in person instead of sending an email, parking farther away, or getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier.
Fitting physical activity into your day does not have to be a chore if you know how to make it fun. The number is not worth obsessing over, either.
Maybe today is not the day when you walk 10,000 steps, and that is fine. Start to add movement to your life gradually and, when those endorphins start to kick in, you will never want to stop.