Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps per day?

You’ve probably heard that walking 10,000 steps—just like sleeping 8 hours and drinking 8 glasses of water—is the magic daily number to unlock a whole host of physical and mental benefits. From wellness blogs to personal trainers, everyone seems to agree on that particular number—so much so that the default setting on most step trackers is “10,000”—but just how accurate is it? Well, we’re here to walk you through it (pun intended).

Where did the 10,000 steps number come from?

You might be surprised to learn that the figure of “10,000” steps actually has zero scientific backing. There are many theories on how this figure became the default, but it was most likely the result of some very good marketing. According to Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "the number likely originated as a marketing tool. In 1965, a Japanese business, the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company, sold a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which means ‘10,000 steps meter' in Japanese." In addition, the number “10,000” written in Japanese actually looks like a person walking and it’s simply an easy, round number to remember. Oh, marketing!

What is the ideal number of steps then?

This number varies greatly according to age, weight, health and fitness level. Rather than stick to an arbitrary figure, you should monitor what feels good to you. Dr. Lee even authored a 2019 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, demonstrating that, out of nearly 17,000 women aged 66 to 78, those who walked 7,500 steps or more had the lowest mortality rate. However, taking just 4,400 steps per day (less than half the figure widely stated) was associated with a 41% lower mortality rate, compared with women who walked 2,500 steps a day or fewer. The number of “steps” also didn’t have to come purely from walking, but from any activity that involved a significant amount of movement.

What are the benefits of getting in daily steps?

Regardless of the final number of steps, any additional movement every day is a major health boost. Other than weight loss, taking more steps per day can help improve cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels and mood. It also can help lower the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

How can I get more steps every day?

If it’s not feasible to go on long walks every day, you can add additional steps into your routine by making very small adjustments. Rather than focusing on a specific number of steps—like 10,000—which can actually be discouraging and even harmful depending on your current health and fitness level, aim for adding incremental amounts of steps to your daily total. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, get up and walk in place while watching television or walk to local destinations instead of driving. In addition, walking isn’t the only activity the counts. Anything that gets you moving and raises your heart rate can count towards your total steps for the day, so dancing in the kitchen, chasing after the kids or playing with pets all add up to a healthier you.