Walking to 10,000 steps
Fitness tips,  Health

Making it to 10,000 steps. Should you?This article is a 8 min read

You may have heard the recommendation that for better health you should attempt to walk 10,000 steps a day. Today, wearable devices have built their platforms with this recommendation at the center of the technology. Moreover, video games such as Pokémon Go have jumped on as people are encouraged to walk around and search and capture virtual creatures. Additionally, there have been ehealth programs built to support the recommendation such as 10,000 Steps (Das & Dlugonski, 2018).

One of the questions often asked Is walking 10,000 steps a day a good recommendation for being healthy? In this article I will attempt to answer that question based on studies that have looked at the 10,000 step recommendation.

Walking first

The 10,000 steps recommendation should not supplant other guidelines for physical activity – in fact, it started as a marketing scheme to sell a pedometer. However, it does lend itself to the number one mode of exercise, walking. Research has shown the benefit of walking in just about all populations. For many people, it may be the activity of choice. For example, 30-minutes of moderate intensity walking (e.g., pace of 100 [± 10] step/minute on level terrain) on most days (recommendation = 150 minutes weekly) reduces the risk of heart disease, some cancers, improves fitness, improve glucose control, improves blood pressure, reduces body fat, reduces risk for and symptoms depression and anxiety, reduces the risk for premature death from some noncommunicable diseases. Walking is also low impact, does not require anything but good shoes and a safe place to walk.

The best news is that you don’t have to walk the 30-minutes all at once. For example, you can walk for 3 – 10 minute periods and accumulate 30-minutes and get the benefit! The 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity of exercise target is emphasized in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans which states, for substantial health benefits, individuals should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week (Current Guidelines 2019). It must be noted that activity patterns do not matter as much as getting the amount of activity needed to benefit, so even the weekend warrior will see benefits as long as the exercise volume is enough (Shiroma, 2019).

10,000 steps

So, will 10,000 steps get you healthy and to the 150 minutes of moderate intensity weekly walking?

The answer is a resounding – probably.

There are studies that support the “10,000 steps” recommendation. These studies suggest that reaching between 7,500 – 10,000 steps a day can improve blood glucose control and blood pressure (Musto, Jacobs, Nash, Delrossi, & Perry, 2010; Rettner, 2014), help control body weight (Musto, Jacobs, Nash, Delrossi, & Perry, 2010; Schneider, Bassett, Thompson, Pronk, & Bielak, 2006), improves personal growth and psychological well-being (Morgan, Tobar, & Snyder, 2010), prevent osteoporosis (Gallagher, 2019) and the benefits of 15,000 steps including reduced heart disease risk (Bowerman, 2017).

Some studies have found that people who reach the 10,000 daily step mark generally also reach the weekly 150 minutes of moderate intensity as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (Le-Masurier, Sidman, & Corbin, 2003). Some data even suggest that as low as 7,000 – 8,000 steps a day was enough to reach that recommendation (Tudor-Locke et al., 2011).

But this is not true for everyone.

Just because someone takes 7,000 or 10,000 steps does not mean that they walk at a 100 step/min pace and for 150-minutes a week. Another issue is that most people will fall short of the 10,000 step goal via daily activity alone by about 4,000 steps (Choi, Pak, & Choi, 2007). Some data shows the average American walks only about 6,500 ± steps a day (Tudor-Locke et al., 2011).

Does everyone need 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day?

One questions is Does everyone need to take 10,000 steps a day?

The answer to this seems to be NO.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association evaluated the number of steps daily and mortality rates for older adult (mean = 72 years) women (n = 16,741) and found as little as 4,400 steps a day reduced mortality rates (Lee et al., 2019). The rate continued to decrease up to 7,500 a day and then the benefit leveled off. Remember what I mentioned above about studies seeing benefits at 7,500 steps? One last thing, for this population step volume, rather than intensity, seemed enough to lower mortality rates.

The most important concept is that engaging in “stationary behavior” most of the day will negatively impact your health so we should look to reduce this by adding movement (Stamatakis et al., 2018) and the 10,000 step model will help. Some movement is better than none. So if you are walking 2,000 steps a day now maybe add 1,000 each week as tolerated until you reach the 10,000. You’ll see benefits.

The 150-minute target remains important. Interestingly, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Cardiology Association found that meeting the established guidelines for structured exercise (150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly) can offset the negative effects of stationary behavior (Stamatakis et al., 2019). This means that doing 3,000 (to 6,000) steps at 100 steps/minute a day may go a very long way to get good health benefits.

With the above in mind we can use the “10,000-step” model to stratify people into levels of activity. For example, less than 5,000 steps a day is considered sedentary and over 12,500 highly active. 7,000 – 8,000 steps may be enough to be considered “active” as it may indicate the likelihood that a person has achieved the lower limit of current physical activity recommendations (Tudor-Locke et al., 2011).

Getting to the 150 minute activity recommendation. 10,000 steps
Aerobic and Strength activities are best.

So let’s make some sense of this. You’ve been told that you should accumulate about 10,000 steps a day (you now know it can be as low as 7,000 or even 4,400 if older). If you want to reach the recommended guideline of 150-minutes of moderate exercise/week you would need to do about 3,000 steps in 30 minutes on level terrain (100 steps a minute) 5 days a week. You could also do 1,000 steps in 10 minutes 3 times a day and get the same benefits. Following me so far? You’ve got 3,000 steps of moderate activity under your belt. (Note, in this case, more is better, so working toward 6,000 steps at 100 steps a minute would put you at the upper end of the recommendation (300/min/week) of moderate aerobic activity thus increase the benefit.)

Now you need to add 7,000 steps of light activity steps (less than 80/min). That’s the kind of stuff you do during your everyday activities. You can set alarms on a fitness watch to remind you to get up and move every hour. Even adding as little as 2,000 steps if you are currently at the lower end of the step count (<5,000) will add significant benefits. Read about adding movement into your day here.

10,000 Steps for healthy adults

StepsPaceDescriptionExamples
3000+ (up to 6,000)100+/min“Brisk” walking on level terrainFitness walking, group fitness walking, walking the dog (give your dog a workout)
4000 - 12,000less than 60/minLight walkingHousehold chores, light gardening, shopping, take the stairs, park at the rear of the parking lot, use the bathroom farthest from your desk.
Total: 7,000-18,000 steps
Note on benefits
3000 steps at 100+ steps a minutes generally meets requirement of 30 minutes of moderate exercise. 7,000+ steps may provide health benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved glucose control, weight control, prevention of osteoporosis, etc.15,000 steps a day may lower your odds of heart disease.130 steps a minute will equal vigorous activity. Which can be for 75 minutes a week.

It’s clear that moving more is essential to good health. If you’re going to use the 10,000 step method to achieve recommended physical activity goals remember that all steps are not equal. About one-third of the steps should be moderate intensity (100/steps minute). The other two-thirds are equally as important as these represent reduced sedentarism which reduces health risk.

One final thought, the 10,000 step recommendation does not recognize the need for strength, balance, and/or corrective exercise which are critically important for good health and fitness.

Happy stepping!

References

Bowerman, M. (2017, April 15). Here’s what happens to your body when you walk those recommended 10,000 steps. Retrieved May 08, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2017/04/14/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-walk-10000-steps-health-fitness/99681306/

Choi, B. C., Pak, A. W., & Choi, J. C. (2007). Daily step goal of 10,000 steps: A literature review. Clinical & Investigative Medicine, 30(3), 146. doi:10.25011/cim.v30i3.1083

Current Guidelines. (2019, May). Retrieved May 01, 2019, from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/

Das, B. M., & Dlugonski, D. (2018, February 15). Development of a Logic Model for a Community-Based Walking Program for Mothers. Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 3(4), 28-35. doi:10.1249/TJX.0000000000000054

Gallagher, P. (2019, April 24). Walking 10,000 steps a day enough to improve bone strength. Retrieved May 08, 2019, from https://inews.co.uk/news/health/walking-10000-steps-improve-bone-strength/

Le-Masurier, G. C., Sidman, C. L., & Corbin, C. B. (2003). Accumulating 10,000 Steps: Does this Meet Current Physical Activity Guidelines? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 74(4), 389-394. doi:10.1080/02701367.2003.10609109

Lee, I., Shiroma, E. J., Kamada, M., Bassett, D. R., Matthews, C. E., & Buring, J. E. (2019). Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Internal Medicine. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899

Marshall, S. J., Levy, S. S., Tudor-Locke, C. E., Kolkhorst, F. W., Wooten, K. M., Ji, M., . . . Ainsworth, B. E. (2009). Translating Physical Activity Recommendations into a Pedometer-Based Step Goal. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(5), 410-415. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.01.021

Morgan, A. L., Tobar, D. A., & Snyder, L. (2010). Walking Toward a New Me: The Impact of Prescribed Walking 10,000 Steps/Day on Physical and Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 7(3), 299-307. doi:10.1123/jpah.7.3.299

Musto, A., Jacobs, K., Nash, M., Delrossi, G., & Perry, A. (2010). The Effects of an Incremental Approach to 10,000 Steps/Day on Metabolic Syndrome Components in Sedentary Overweight Women. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 7(6), 737-745. doi:10.1123/jpah.7.6.737

Rettner, R. (2014, March 07). The Truth About ‘10,000 Steps’ a Day. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/43956-walking-10000-steps-healthy.html

Schneider, P. L., Bassett, D. R., Thompson, D. L., Pronk, N. P., & Bielak, K. M. (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. American Journal of Health Promotion, 21(2), 85-89. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-21.2.85

Shiroma, E. J. (2019, March). Using Accelerometers to Re-examine the Weekend Warrior. Retrieved May 08, 2019, from http://www.multibriefs.com/briefs/acsm/active032619.htm

Stamatakis, E., Ekelund, U., Ding, D., Hamer, M., Bauman, A. E., & Lee, I. (2018). Is the time right for quantitative public health guidelines on sitting? A narrative review of sedentary behaviour research paradigms and findings. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(6), 377-382. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099131

Stamatakis, E., Gale, J., Bauman, A., Ekelund, U., Hamer, M., & Ding, D. (2019). Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 73(16), 2062-2072. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2019.02.031

Tudor-Locke, C., Craig, C. L., Brown, W. J., Clemes, S. A., Cocker, K. D., Giles-Corti, B., . . . Blair, S. N. (2011). How many steps/day are enough? for adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(1), 79. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-79