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Why 10,000 steps a day is not enough to stay healthy



how many steps do you need per day

Walking can be great exercise, but are 10,000 steps enough to keep you fit?

Angela Lang / CNET

We all know that daily exercise is important (doesn’t matter how much you hate it) and our fitness trackers have long persuaded us to walk 10,000 steps every day. And while statistics such as heart rate is important, does the number of steps you take really affect your health?

While this can be a useful way to monitor your daily activity (since you don’t technically need to spend an hour in the gym every day to “be active”), is it really the best way to measure activity?

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Yes, the little things you do every day to get more exercise every day matter. Choosing to walk to work, park further away, or take the stairs, for example, counts toward your activity and it’s great that our tech can help us see that. But are there any real health benefits of hitting your 10,000 steps a day? And does how do you get them really important? What about the other workouts you do that don’t give you extra steps? Keep reading to find out what the science and the experts have to say.

Why 10,000 steps a day isn’t one-size-fits-all

Since everyone is different and has a unique lifestyle, activity level, and goals, it makes sense that not everyone needs the same amount of exercise every day to be healthy. Some of this comes down to each person’s individual goals and health concerns. But are 10,000 steps a day really enough for the average person to be considered active and healthy? According to Professor Paul Gordon, exercise physiologist and chair of Baylor University’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation, it can be a great goal and starting place.

“The average person will take between 3,000 and 6,000 steps during the day from commuting, shopping, etc. Adding 30 minutes of exercise (about 3,000 steps) will get us to about 10,000 steps,” said Gordan. He also added that when it comes to walking, more is better for your health.

So what if you’re not just walking for exercise (or even tracking your steps altogether), how much exercise do you really need? According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you need at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running or cardio dance classes) every week. The DHHS also recommends doing strength training twice a week (such as lifting weights or exercises that use your own body weight).

Keep in mind that if your goal is to lose weight, lose weight, or achieve other specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more than the standard 150 minutes to reach your goal.


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Where did 10,000 steps per day come from?

The 10,000-step recommendation has been mainstream for a while, but have you ever wondered where it originally came from? While you would expect the recommendation to come from a medical source or government health service, it turns out not to be the case at all.

During a recent talk at the fitness industry event, Movement by Michelob Ultra in Austin, sports physician Dr. Jordan Metzl explains that the number of 10,000 steps is random. The song has roots that can be traced back to a Japanese hiking club that adopted the term as part of a marketing slogan.

A JAMA article on internal medicine also points out that there is “limited scientific basis” to support the claim that taking 10,000 steps a day is necessary for health. But the study found that the participants who took more steps per day (over a four-year period) had a lower death rate than those who took fewer steps.

The best way to track your daily activity

If you have a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or other smartwatch, you know these devices can track a lot more than just your steps. And while keeping track of the total number of steps and distance you walk each day is helpful, could other factors be a more effective way to measure your activity? According to Gordan, steps are not the best measure of physical activity. “It does not take into account the intensity of the activity and is ineffective for forms of non-weight-bearing activity (ie cycling).”

Since steps cannot take your intensity level into account, Gordan recommends that you also use a heart rate monitor to measure exercise intensity. After all, you could technically hit 10,000 steps a day without really increasing your heart rate or keeping it going for long. “I would encourage weekly activities that will increase the heart rate for an uninterrupted period of time.” He said a balanced exercise routine could look like doing an activity that gets your heart rate up (like brisk walking or running) four days a week, and going to yoga classes two days a week to work on strength and flexibility.

apply-watch-comparison-1

The Apple Watch measures more than just steps: it watches how much time you move each day.

Angela Lang / CNET

Is there a better activity goal to aim for other than 10,000 steps per day?

If 10,000 steps a day seem like a random goal right now, what are some good goals to work towards when it comes to activity? One factor that can make a big difference to your health actually has nothing to do with the number of steps you take, but how much time you spend sitting down. “Studies have shown that prolonged sitting is unhealthy in itself, even if you are active on a daily basis. So it is very helpful to vary the activity throughout the day.”

Mayo Clinic recommends interrupting the time you spend sitting each day with activity, even if you’re getting the recommended amount of exercise each day. Sitting too much is associated with a higher risk of metabolic problems and can affect your health.

Furthermore, a recent study found that people who sat for more than 13.5 hours a day did not get some of the health benefits of an hour of exercise because their overall activity level was so low compared to the time they spent sitting.


The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.


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