Movement challenges are all the rage these days, but do we really need to take 10,000 steps daily? The goal of hitting the 10,000 step count mark has inspired many people to wear fitness trackers and set step goals. And while walking 5 miles a day (approximately 10,000 steps) is beneficial, can we still do okay with less? Is 10,000 steps the magic number, or is it just another fitness trend?

Where Did the Claim About 10,000 Steps a Day Come From?

There are different accounts of how the 10,000-step standard came about. However, researchers hypothesize the origins as far back as 1965 when a Japanese company made a pedometer named “10,000 steps meter” (Manpo-Kei).

The rationale behind 10,000 steps was more for marketing than science. Manpo-Kei’s marketing was a huge hit, with the 10,000-step phenomenon sweeping Western culture. As a result, researchers became interested if that number of steps truly offers real health benefits. And they found that it does.

The Science on the Benefits of Taking 10,000 Steps a Day

A recent US Women’s Health study in JAMA Internal Medicine (2019) investigated the benefits of taking 10,000 steps daily. The study aimed to see if more steps can contribute to longevity. They observed over 16,500 women between the ages of 62 to 101, with the average woman aged 72. The women wore a step counter for four days during waking hours, measuring their step counts. Then, researchers followed up with the women four years later to assess their health.

They found that women taking at least 4,400 daily steps had 41% lower mortality rates than sedentary women. For study purposes, sedentary was considered to be less than 2,700 daily steps. In addition, lower mortality rates correlate with higher step counts, tapering off at around 7,500 steps per day. Lastly, the researchers didn’t find any relation between the intensity of their walking and mortality rate. So, this study suggests that 7,500 daily steps are the sweet spot to increase longevity, regardless of exercise intensity.

Another study examining the benefits of 10,000 daily steps looked at its effects on body composition and heart health. The results from that study suggested that 9,500 daily steps were the magic number. Taking 9,500 steps a day for three weeks helped overweight and obese adults reduce body fat and increase HDL or good cholesterol.

The studies above show clear benefits for daily movement, especially when the step count is at least 7,500. However, it’s important to remember that you should incorporate other lifestyle factors with exercise for better overall health. For example, good sleep hygiene, stress management skills, and a nourishing diet all play a role in well-being. If you eat junk food and don’t have wholesome stress-coping skills, 10,000 probably only increases your longevity minimally. Another factor to consider is that there are great forms of exercise that won’t add to your step count, like yoga and resistance training. For that reason, health experts don’t recommend relying solely on step count to represent your daily movement accurately.

The Bottom Line: Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?

While 10,000 steps a day can be an achievement to boast about, it’s not an end-all and be-all marker for health and wellness. Rather than focusing on a single number like step count to track your health, try to improve other factors like sleep, diet, and stress management. Of course, exercise is also an integral part of a holistic health approach, so try to stay consistent with that too.

Counting steps can help you stay more active, especially if you have a smartwatch that reminds you to move every hour. Many people might even be shocked to see how little they move in a day. Your step count can be a wake-up call if you need more activity. If you set a step count goal, find a realistic number that works for you and your lifestyle.

You can also refer to the CDC’s physical activity guidelines to help you focus on the quantity and quality of the movement you pursue. The CDC recommends at least 150-minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (or a mix of both) weekly. In addition, they recommend adding resistance training to your regimen at least twice a week. Finally, and most importantly, make your workouts enjoyable. If you dread your daily workout, you’re less likely to stick with it. Instead, find activities you enjoy and that are within your physical capabilities. By doing that, you’ll be able to dedicate yourself to maintaining a long-term exercise plan.