Commonly doled out as sage fitness advice, taking 10,000 steps in a day is correctly touted as a way to get some health benefits.
However, treating it as some kind of magic number that will single-handedly help you reach all your fitness goals is just not realistic.
There are many factors that can limit the effectiveness of a 10,000-step daily goal. Some people will need to take more steps to get the same health benefits, while others may see improvement at a lower step count.
Note: Want to get in great shape without leaving your house? Workout with elite personal trainers for just $4 per month when you become a Fitplan member today. But hurry, because this once-a-year, 75% off sale expires in just a few days. Learn more now!
Here is what’s covered in this article:
- Why Do They Recommend 10,000 Steps?
- How Many Steps Should I Take in One Day?
- Using a Pedometer
- Setting a Step Goal with a Tracker
- Using Calorie Math to Set a Daily Goal
- Health Benefits of Taking 10,000 Steps
- How to Take More Steps in a Day
- Exercise Self-Efficacy and Daily Step Counts
- Weight Loss and Daily Step Counts
Let’s get to steppin’
Why Do They Recommend 10,000 Steps?
How did health professionals reach the number 10,000? Well, as it turns out, they didn’t.
The number actually started with a Japanese company that manufactures a pedometer in the mid-60s called the Manpo-Kei, which means “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese. Some naysayers take this information to mean that a 10,000-step goal is completely bunk, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Using step trackers to increase the number of steps you take in a day is one of the best ways to get walking more. According to some studies, taking any break in the amount of time you spend sitting still will help lower blood pressure, especially in women, and promote general good health for everyone.
Setting your step goal at 10,000 a day is most likely going to net some solid health benefits, but it’s not a magic number. It could well be the case that your body needs more than 10,000 or could see the same health benefits at only 6,000 steps.
How Many Steps Should I Take in One Day?
Your personal fitness goals and the way your body burns energy hold the most sway when calculating how many steps you should take in one day.
It takes more energy to move more weight, so taller and larger people will burn more calories walking than thinner or shorter people. The same number of steps will cause larger people to burn more calories, so people who are only trying to maintain good health and are already at or near their ideal weight may need to set higher step goals.
Researchers have had much more success defining how many steps per day are too few. One study from 2012 found that taking less than 5,000 steps makes high blood pressure and heart disease both more likely. They’ve labeled any level of daily activity beneath this amount ‘sedentary’, and have also found that people who have this type of sedentary lifestyle are more likely to be older women who are current smokers and living with chronic disease or disability.
So for everyone reading this, make sure you are taking at least 5,000 steps every day. Most people who have to leave the house for work, grocery shopping, and other necessary tasks generally take between 6,000 and 8,000 steps without even trying. Using an activity tracker like a pedometer can help increase that number to 10,000 and beyond.
Using a Pedometer
Pedometers, which measure the number of steps taken by the user, are fairly commonplace nowadays. They’re built into iPhones and form a large part of the product line of fitness companies like Sweatcoin.
Unfortunately, pedometers can be tricked into over- or under-reporting the number of steps taken depending on a few important factors. So, knowing how to use one correctly is important to make sure you get the health benefits you’re looking for.
Pedometers sometimes have a tendency to misregister steps. This is because of the technology that they use to recognize when the wearer has taken a step. Most wearable step-counters measure the movement of the wearer’s hips as a step. This makes sense because human hips naturally tilt as we walk. Some pedometers measure distance by multiplying the number of steps with a pre-figured distance of a single step. In either case, it’s possible for outside elements to affect how accurate the pedometer’s step count is.
Older mechanical wearable pedometer designs use levers or even pendulums to count steps. Newer electronic models might use moving parts to break a circuit each time a step is taken, or they may have no moving parts at all. Advanced electronic pedometers measure steps with microchips and tend to last longer since there are no moving parts that could break or wear down. Similar microchips are found in most cell phones, which is one of the ways pedometer apps measure steps. They could also rely on your phone’s GPS capability.
Setting a Step Goal with a Tracker
There are a few things you should do before you set your step goal. It’s important to consider what your activity level is before you start adding extra steps so that you have a good idea of whether or not you should aim for 10,000 steps a day or fewer.
Follow these steps to set your personal daily goal
1. With a wearable step counter, go through your normal daily activities to gauge how many steps you usually take. Make sure not to go on any 30-minute walks or do extra physical tasks that you wouldn’t normally do. If you need to, do this for a few days to get a good average daily step count.
2. Once you have an illustrative daily step count, examine your diet. Remember that a calorie deficit is critical if weight loss is part of your fitness goals. Even if it isn’t, make sure that you are making up for calories burnt off while walking with healthy, nutritious food.
3. Finally, you can set your personal goal. For those interested in weight loss, burning 3,500 calories is generally understood to shed about one pound of fat. If you set a daily goal for your steps, losing one or two pounds a week just by walking is likely in the realm of possibility. For more information on calorie math, read on to the next section.
Helpful Hint: The start of a daily step goal routine is also the perfect time to get into one of our starter Fitplan programs, like the 3-day Beginner Challenge.
Using Calorie Math to Set a Daily Goal
If 3,500 calories burnt is equal to one pound of fat lost, that’s about the goal you want for a given week. You might have already started imagining non-stop physical activity to burn 10,000 calories in a week to really shed some weight, but that’s not the most healthy or efficient way to go about shedding pounds.
For the long-lasting weight loss, it’s best to aim to lose about a pound of fat a week. This rate of weight loss will also make the healthy habits you start to lose weight more habit-forming so you’ll be better prepared to keep lost weight off once it’s gone.
Most of the work that goes into setting a daily goal doubles as a figure for setting up a nutritional diet plan. If you find that you need to consume 2,500 calories a day to maintain your weight, then you might need to add to the standard 10,000-step goal. If you need significantly less than 2,000 calories to get through the day, then you should think about a daily goal of somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 steps.
Health Benefits of Taking 10,000 Steps
It’s important to understand what your aims are in using fitness trackers to reach a daily goal of 10,000 steps. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll need to practice something like our Busy Body Fitplan in addition to meeting the 10,000-step goal.
If weight loss is your main goal, you must maintain a calorie deficit. So if you are going to use a tracker to take 10,000 steps a day, you will also have to monitor your diet.
Basically, taking 10,000 steps a day isn’t going to replace a proper diet and fitness routine, but it definitely does give you tons of health benefits like lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease. It’s much easier than it seems to hit the 10,000-step without significantly altering your normal daily activities. In fact, new studies show that taking the steps is more important than how fast or intense those steps are.
Health Benefits of Walking in General
Numerous studies have found that walking yields many health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidelines that say as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can help control blood pressure and puts individuals at a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers. That exercise can be moderate-intensity cardio or vigorous-intensity exercises, but even low-intensity walking can net some of these health benefits.
Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. School of Public Health, lead a 2019 study that was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that found older women could see health benefits and longer life expectancy if they walked more. For very sedentary participants, as little as 2,000 steps a day was enough to make a difference. People over the age of 60 tend to get much less than that, but the study also showed that getting additional steps in doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a workout routine. They can be around the house or outside in the course of errands.
How to Take More Steps in a Day
Now that you’ve been apprised of the health benefits of getting more steps in, you might be wondering how exactly you can accomplish that task. There are many ways to get more steps that don’t require a treadmill. Try out some of these ideas to meet your new daily goal:
- Get a Dog – The most fun way to walk more is to have a furry friend along with you. They have to be walked a few times a day anyway, so these will feel like invisible steps.
- Make the Most of Free Time – If you work in an office, try to snag some steps at lunch. It might be a bit frustrating at first to go from the desk to brisk walking, but eventually, you’ll come to look forward to the extra physical activity. You might even find yourself with more energy in the second part of the day.
If you don’t work in an office, try to fit in a walk during other free periods. Even if it’s only a 30-minute walk, it will still increase your energy levels and provide other health benefits.
- Take the Stairs and Park Further Away – This is the most common advice out there, but you’d be surprised how many steps you can rack up in a day just by parking further away from your destination and going up the stairs instead of using an elevator. Don’t worry about annoying your carpool buddies either, since they’ll also benefit from the additional walking.
- Get a Partner – The best way to make sure you stick to your plan and meet your daily goal consistently is to find someone who wants a healthy lifestyle and will check in on you and take walks with you. If you don’t have a partner available, try some LISS exercises with one of our Fitplan instructors.
- Walk After Dinner – After the dishes are clean and put away, try to go out for a walk. Not only will it get you some of the health benefits we’ve been talking about, but it also helps your body to digest. In today’s smart phone-obsessed culture, walking after dinner can also be a pleasant way to meet neighbors face to face.
Exercise Self-Efficacy and Daily Step Counts
Just like any other type of physical activity, these daily goals only work if you can motivate yourself to meet them consistently. The belief that you can perform a given activity is called self-efficacy and it’s one of the most important things for weight loss and exercise programs in general.
Improved self-efficacy starts with your expectations. When you’re setting your daily goals, don’t start out thinking you’ll immediately hit that magic number of steps without issue. Start slowly so you can get used to it. Recognize that there will be days when you aren’t able to meet your step goals and there will also be days when you somehow manage to greatly exceed it without even trying.
Mindfulness is also very important. Look out for negative thoughts; if you tend to berate yourself for not meeting a goal, make sure you stop that kind of internal language. When you don’t meet your step count, just start planning for how you’re going to do things different tomorrow. Retain some of that positive energy when you do exceed your step count. Most importantly, don’t obsess over the number of steps you’ve taken. Try not to roll-over steps from previous days. Just concentrate on the step count for the present day.
Weight Loss and Daily Step Counts
We’ve already talked about the calorie math, but we also want to be very clear about the potential for weight loss if you do consistently hit 10,000 steps in a day.
If you have a lot of weight to lose, only adding steps or 30-minute walks into your day won’t help you meet all your fitness goals – not quickly, anyway. It is critical to live a healthy lifestyle, not just adding in elements of one. Diet is a huge part of that, but so is physical activity. The 10,000 step method is meant to add in some physical activity when you can, but if your main goal is shedding pounds, then you should also form some kind of exercise routine.
Helpful Hint: If you’re having trouble formulating your own workout routine, try our Fat Loss Fitplan. It will help you shed weight and also give you great workout ideas to use whenever you want.
The takeaway here is that any kind of aerobic exercise results in positive health benefits. It ultimately depends on your personal fitness goals whether 10,000 steps are sufficient or if you’ll need a few thousand more. Step-counting is more so meant for people who just need a little bit more physical activity. For people who want to get sculpted muscles or lose lots of weight, short walks and taking the stairs are probably not going to cut it.
Still, it’s very easy to set a step count target and reach it. Doing so adds some kind of movement to the daily routine, which can be beneficial for mental as well as physical health. If you don’t always have time to hit the gym or complete an entire exercise routine, using a pedometer is a great way to burn extra calories and break up the more sedentary tasks that fill up the majority of the day for most people. If you are hesitant to start more challenging fitness plans, easing into it with a daily step goal could be the perfect solution.
Note: Want to get in great shape without leaving your house? Workout with elite personal trainers and get 75% off when you become a Fitplan member today. But hurry, because this once-a-year offer expires in just a few days. Learn more now!