How many steps should you get each day? If you said 10,000, you are not alone. That’s the goal many of us set in our fitness and step trackers.
Here’s a tougher question: Why 10,000?
The answer goes back to the 1960s. That’s when pedometers became popular in Japan. One popular model was called a “manpo-kei,” which means “10,000 steps meter.” The pedometers caught on with walking clubs there and later in the United States.
The number stuck because it translates to about five miles a day, depending on your step length, and that seems like a good workout to most people, says Jennifer Brazen, a trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise.
You might be surprised to learn that Brazen says it’s better to have no set number of steps in mind. That’s because it’s too easy to slack off after getting to the 10,000 mark, especially if it’s right after an early workout.
“There is nothing wrong with a 10,000-step goal,” Brazen says. “But if you get your 10,000 steps in three or four hours, what are you doing the rest of the day?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also doesn’t have a set walking goal. Its guidelines say adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Kids and teens should get at least one hour of activity each day.
Stand, Stretch, Walk, Repeat
Without a step goal, what should you do? Brazen sums it up in two words: Move more, and move more often. A 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the more adults 45 and older sat, the greater their risk of an early death. On the flip side, getting up and moving every 30 minutes could reduce that risk.
“Some people work eight hours in the office and commute another hour each way. That’s 10 hours of sitting,” Brazen says. “Then they come home, eat dinner and sit on the couch to watch TV. Then they go to bed. They may have gotten 10,000 steps from a workout, but they’re still sitting or lying down for 20 hours a day.”
Brazen says people who sit all day for work should get up at least every hour, stretch and take a quick walk. Some fitness trackers will remind you if you haven’t moved in an hour. You also can set an alarm on your phone to remind you.
Some other ideas to get moving:
- Stand or walk around while you talk on the phone or watch TV.
- Walk in place or do light exercises during commercials.
- Use a standing desk or a high table while working.
- Hold meetings while walking instead of sitting in an office.
Walking for Weight Loss
If weight loss is your goal, you may have to step it up even more, Brazen says. Follow the CDC’s 150-minute recommendation and make sure you are exercising with intensity at least some of the time.
And don’t forget to count calories. A brisk walk for 30 minutes burns about 150 calories, depending on your weight and other factors. To lose a pound a week, you need to cut about 500 calories a day.
“If you’re trying to lose weight, you have to do something active every day,” Brazen says. “That doesn’t mean a lot of sweating, but you have to do something to get your blood pumping, like walking on a treadmill or riding a bike.”
If you haven’t been active, Brazen says you should start with two days a week. “Once two days feels comfortable, add another day, and then another. You have to keep pushing.”
Need to increase your steps?
Try these simple tips for adding steps to your day: Park farther away from the entrance when you go to work or go shopping. Try using the copy machine or restroom on another floor at work. Pace inside or walk around the block instead of sitting while you’re waiting for appointments. Challenge yourself even more by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
Sources: Counting Every Step You Take, Harvard Health Letter, 2009; What are the risks of sitting too much?, Mayo Clinic, 2018; Can I lose weight if my only exercise is walking?, Mayo Clinic, 2015; Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A National Cohort Study, Annals of Internal Health, Oct. 3, 2017; Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015