- Walking can help reduce the risk of illness and improve mental and physical health.
- But it is an old marketing myth that the optimal number is 10,000 steps per day.
- For health, researchers found 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day was beneficial.
- Visit the Insider homepage for more stories.
Despite the recommendations of pedometers everywhere, there is nothing scientific about the goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, for health or for health.
This magical number is arbitrary that was born as an advertising campaign decades ago.
While walking is good for your health, research suggests 7,000 to 8,000 steps might be a better goal.
10,000 steps a day starts as a marketing slogan
The idea that walking 10,000 steps is optimal came from a catchy announcement in Japanese, according to Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard paleoanthropologist who studied the evolution of exercise.
Lieberman wrote in his recent book, “Exercise,” that the Manpo-kei (translated as 10,000-foot meter) was invented in the 1960s by the Japanese company Yamasa Tokei – the producer of the first commercial pedometer – who chose the name because it sounded good.
And it worked.
The company has sold its product, and the concept has become popular all over the world as a health metric.
Walking is good for your health, but you don’t need to hit a certain target to see benefits
Lieberman told Insider that there was some advantage to getting 10,000 steps a day.
It’s a convenient number for people to remember, walking so much (about 5 miles a day) is linked to health benefits, and walking is an activity accessible to many.
“We all have deep fundamental instincts to avoid unnecessary activities, so we need these nudges to help people get started,” Lieberman said.
But it’s not necessary to hit 10,000 steps a day, research shows, and the health benefits of walking can be on a spectrum.
A Study 2019 on older women found that those who walked 4,400 steps per day had lower mortality rates for four consecutive years than those who walked the least (about 2,700 steps per day or less).
But the risk reduction seemed maximum at about 7,500 steps a day, and researchers found no additional benefit to walking 10,000 or more steps a day.
Similarly, a Study 2020 found that taking 8,000 to 12,000 steps per day was linked to a lower risk of dying from any cause during the study, compared with 4000 steps per day.
Together, these studies suggest that more movement can benefit your health, whether or not you touch the magic number.
Some evidence suggests that walking does not lead to significant weight loss in the long run
There are some proof that people who walk 10,000 steps a day are more likely to lose weight than those who walk only 3,500 steps a day. It seems to make intuitive sense that adding a few extra miles to your routine would help, thanks to the more calories than calories burned.
But new research suggests that may not be the case.
Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary biologist, has collected data showing that traditional hunter-gatherers, who walk miles every day, burn almost the same number of calories as sedentary Americans.
His theory to explain this is that, over time, the body compensates for the extra energy you burn through exercise by budgeting more carefully or increasing your hunger signals to eat more to compensate.
While this theory is somewhat controversial and requires more research, it suggests that the relationship between walking and weight loss is not as simple as people may think. Therefore, walking 10,000 steps a day is not a hard and fast rule to shed pounds more than a recipe for better health.