You may have heard of the popular slogan “10,000 steps per day”. This saying originated in Japan, in the 1960s, when a pedometer was marketed with the name “manpo-kei”, which translates as “10,000 steps meter”. Pedometers are devices that estimate the distance you have traveled by foot, by recording the number of steps taken. The number 10,000 quickly caught on and became associated with a “recommendation” for the amount of steps one should take each day. Several studies have been published that support this presumption to be true, as there are several health benefits you can receive from actively reaching 10,000 steps per day. However, there are some shortcomings that this estimate does not account for.
Objective monitoring of physical activity has now been made possible with the use of pedometers and accelerometers, like the popular ‘fitbit’, that measure the steps you take each day. These devices have created a new means for awareness of one’s physical activity level, leading to the question: How many steps should I take each day?
Steps by walking can be acquired through normal or regular activities of everyday life. They may be accumulated by walking, while cooking, doing chores, attending to occupational requirements, running errands, etc. Depending on your current lifestyle and physical health, there is no set number of steps that you must aim for, as it would be near impossible to account for all contributing factors. The range would be far too difficult to scientifically determine, as no two individuals are alike.
However, several recommendations exist to help you narrow down your ideal range. Several government, as well as non-governmental, agencies around the globe have established recommendations to give direction for the amount of physical activity one should aim to complete. These guidelines are expressed in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration parameters. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined certain guidelines for aerobic exercise that will produce health benefits, but does not provide a specific number as to the steps necessary.
- Aerobic activity for 60 minutes or more per day is recommended for children over 6 years of age.
- For healthy adults and older adults, it is advised that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, should be undertaken every week. If an adult prefers more vigorous-intensity workouts, such as jogging or running, this should be limited to 75 minutes per week.
Catrine Tudor-Locke, Director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA, estimates that 150 minutes of a moderate fitness routine would equate to around 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day. According to Tudor-Locke, the average adult in the United States accumulates about 5,900 steps per day.
In 2011, a review was lead at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center narrowing down the various discrepancies between studies published on adult physical activity and ‘step’ recommendations throughout the world. Through an analysis of 32 studies, several correlations were found between steps taken per day and various health outcomes.
- In 2009, at the University of Tasmania, Australia, it was found that women who achieved greater than 7,500 steps per day had a 50% lower prevalence rate of depression than women who had less than 5,000 steps per day. This indicated the role of physical activity in decreasing the occurrence of depression in women. However, the results for men were not statistically significant, indicating no evident correlation between the two.
- In a 2006 study at the University of Tennessee examining the link between steps per day tracked with a pedometer and body composition, it was found that women who had between 5,000 and 7,500 steps per day had a substantially lower body mass index than the women, who accumulated less than 5,000 steps per day. This relationship indicates that increased physical fitness each day contributes to maintaining a healthier weight.
The authors went on to further suggest from the data compiled that it is possible that greater benefits in body composition may be seen with small increments of physical activity. They recommended increasing steps per day by 2,000 for individuals with low levels of activity, who already had excess body fat. Those who do not need further improvement on their body composition may need optimal physical activity levels, such as 11,000 to 12,000 steps per day, to achieve greater benefits in their body composition.
Based on this information, it can be concluded that each individual needs to find a method that is suitable to his or her physical activity level and lifestyle. Tudor-Locke also suggests that if you normally accumulate 5,000 steps per day, taking an extra 30-minute brisk walk would increase the number to about 8,000 steps. This simple addition to your daily routine can have a great impact on a more favorable body composition and your overall health.
Talking to a healthcare or fitness professional can help you determine how many steps you should be taking each day to best fit your lifestyle and physical health. Although it has been shown that aiming for around 10,000 steps a day can have great health benefits, this amount of steps may not be healthy for every individual.
How much physical activity do you need? [Internet]. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [updated 2013 Aug 25; cited 2014 Nov 8]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html
Tudor-Locke C [Expert opinion]. Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA. 2014.
McKercher CM, Schmidt MD, Sanderson KA, Patton GC, Dwyer T, Venn AJ. Physical activity and depression in young adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2009;36(2):161-164.
Krumm EM, Dessieux OL, Andrews P, Thompson DL. The relationship between daily steps and body composition in postmenopausal women. J Womens Health. 2006;15(2):202-210.
Tudor-Locke C, Craig CL, Brown WJ, Clemes SA, De Cocker K, Giles-Corti B, Hatano Y, Inoue S, Matsudo SM, Mutrie N, Oppert JM, Rowe DA, Schmidt MD, Schofield GM, Spence JC, Teixeira PJ, Tully MA, Blair SN. How Many Steps/day are Enough? For Adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8(1): 79.
Rettner, R. The Truth About ’10,000 Steps’ a Day [Internet]. 2014 Mar 7; Livescience [cited 2014 Nov 8]. Available from: http://www.livescience.com/43956-walking-10000-steps-healthy.html
Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Aoyagi, Y., & Shephard, R. J. (2009). Steps per day. Sports Medicine, 39(6), 423-438.
Hall, K. S., & McAuley, E. (2010). Individual, social environmental and physical environmental barriers to achieving 10 000 steps per day among older women. Health education research, cyq019.
Banks-Wallace, J., & Conn, V. (2005). Changes in steps per day over the course of a pilot walking intervention. ABNF Journal, 16(2), 28.
Schneider, P. L., Crouter, S. E., & Bassett, D. R. (2004). Pedometer measures of free-living physical activity: comparison of 13 models. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 36(2), 331-335.
Bravata, D. M., Smith-Spangler, C., Sundaram, V., Gienger, A. L., Lin, N., Lewis, R., ... & Sirard, J. R. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review. Jama, 298(19), 2296-2304.