June 10, 2019


Walking 10,000 steps for health has become a worldwide phenomenon since the recommendation first hit the fitness scene in the 1960’s. The recommendation has nearly become an accepted fact, and has been adopted by fitness sites or trackers, workplace wellness programs, gyms, and fitness gurus and newbies alike.

And why not? Many studies have confirmed that taking at least 10k steps per day improves overall health and greatly benefits those at risk for chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and of course obesity.

But lately, there has been a lot of negative press about our favorite fitness goal. A lot of talk about throwing out your 10k step goal.

That might be a bit overdramatic.

Part of the problem is that the 10k step goal was part of a marketing campaign in Japan in the 1960s to encourage people to be more active for their health. It turns out the number 10,000 may have been more of an educated guess than a scientifically proven guideline.

Despite 10k’s sketchy history, later research seemed to support the trend and it became accepted as fact.

Why 10k?

Many organizations like the American Centers for Disease control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous activity per week for your health. That equals 30 minutes per day, or about 5 miles. It also equals (you guessed it) about 10k steps. So if all of these experts are recommending the equivalent of about 10k steps per day, why shouldn’t you take that to heart?

Why not 10k?

Canadians and Americans walk on average less than 5,000 steps per day. And while 10,000 might be the perfect goal for some, that really depends on the person. There is no one-size-fits all here. A person’s current health status, health goals, and the intensity of their walking need to be considered.

How many steps do I really need?

The amount of activity that is right for you depends on your health, your level of fitness and your goals. 10k is a nice general guideline for overall health support, but there is no actual right number of steps. For people with chronic illness or a sedentary lifestyle, 10k might be too much at the start. For an athlete, it’s going to be far too few. For both, more is better but more means something different to each.

The right number depends on you. But how do you know what it is?

Determine your baseline

A simple way to move in the right direction is to track your steps for a week or two and determine your current steps-per-day. Then every week add more steps in increments you are comfortable with. If you’re healthy and moderately fit already, you might try adding 1k per week. But if you’ve been sedentary, have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, you may need to start with smaller increments. Only you (and your doctor) know for sure.

If your goal is weight loss, then you need to do a little math. Walking an additional 10k per week more than your baseline equals about 1 pound per week. So if your baseline is 3k per day, work up to 13k per day to lose 1 lb per week.

No, 10,000 steps is not a magic number. But it’s not a bad number either. In fact, it might be the perfect goal for you. And 5000 or 12,000 might be the perfect number for your neighbor. The real magic is not in that specific number, but with the number that is right for you. And none of it works unless you get out there and move. Don’t let the numbers game slow you down.


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