Fitness trackers and smartwatches that track physical activity are everyday items now. Look around your office, your favorite coffee shop, or your neighborhood park, and you’re bound to see someone wearing a device that tracks steps. Friends and family members can challenge one another to see who can get the most steps, and you can set daily fitness goals to make sure that you’re moving and staying healthy. A fitness tracker can be a great tool to encourage people to stay physically active, but just how many steps do you need each day?
Are you supposed to get 10,000 steps a day?
If you own a fitness tracker, you may have heard that 10,000 steps is the magic number. It’s often the default setting on fitness trackers, and the step goal that people generally try to achieve. However, 10,000 steps isn’t a scientifically determined or research-based number.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine examined how step count influenced mortality rate among 16,741 women with an average age of 72. Women who took 4,400 steps per day had a 41% lower mortality rate during the follow-up period of four years compared to women who took 2,700 steps. Longevity benefits continued up to 7,500 steps. According to the study, there wasn’t a discernible difference in longevity benefits after 7,500 steps.
The study shows a correlation between increased physical activity levels and increased longevity, but you can’t look at a single study to provide the answer to how many steps you need each day.
So how many steps do you need each day?
There isn’t a simple, straightforward answer. The number of steps you need each day depends on different factors. A person who’s been living a sedentary lifestyle for the past decade may need a different number of steps than someone who wants to maintain good health. Someone trying to maintain a healthy weight needs a different number of steps than someone who is trying to lose weight. People who are recovering from an injury, dealing with chronic health conditions, or training for athletic competition need have different exercise needs.
Everyone has a different stride and step length. A person with an average 32″ stride length walks one mile for every 2,000 steps. This means that reaching 10,000 steps is roughly equivalent to walking five miles. However, walking 10,000 steps could put you closer to three miles if your stride is 18″, or six miles if your stride is 39″.
Really, the steps shouldn’t be the focus. Steps are a tidy way to get a sense of how active you’re being, and it can be fun to compare step counts with others. Your priority should be a conscious effort to be more physically active.Step counts are fun to compare and they can give you a sense of how active you're being throughout the day. However, your focus should be a purposeful approach towards physical activity. Click To Tweet
How much physical activity do you need each day?
Federal guidelines for physical activity base their recommendation on time rather than steps.
According to Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. This averages out to just over 20 minutes of moderate activity a day. However, the more active you are, the greater the health benefits.
300 minutes, or 5 hours, a week of moderate-intensity provides additional health benefits according to the American Guidelines for Physical Activity.
Recent updates to the physical activity guidelines also state that there is no longer a minimum amount of time required to benefit from physical activity. Previous guidelines suggested that a person needs physical activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more, but every minute counts towards your daily goal according to the new guidelines.
Some physical activity is better than nothing. Set a goal and try to reach it, but ultimately, it’s important to get at least some physical activity every single day. Moving improves your health.
The guidelines also recommend strength training of major muscle groups at least twice a week in addition to aerobic activity.
It’s not all about the steps
10,000 steps is a fine goal, but there’s more to being healthy than the steps you get each day. It’s possible to reach your step goal without ever breaking a sweat. Don’t treat your daily step goal as a finish line, but rather as a minimum.
Good health and wellness require regular physical activity as well as making other healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and regular visits with your primary care physician. Your primary care provider will work with you to make sure that you’re making the best decisions for your health. He can also help you establish the amount of activity that’s right for you.