How many steps should you walk every day? 10,000? More? Less? Choosing the right step goal helps you stay motivated and hit your recommended daily activity time while decreasing your risk of injury. Here’s how to choose the best daily step goal for you to stay motivated, challenge yourself, and stay active in the long run.
If you search for “How many steps per day should I be walking,” you’ll probably find that the number one result is for a 10,000 step daily goal. Where does that recommendation of 10,000 steps come from? And what if you find it difficult to reach that goal daily, or actually feel that 10,000 is just a walk in the park?
One size does not fit all
We come from all walks of life and have unique health concerns and fitness levels. A reasonable goal for an aging grandmother is not the same for her teenage granddaughter. It is important to find the right step goal for you and your situation. Finding the right goal that keeps you motivated will keep you walking, but pushing so hard that walks become a chore or your body is constantly sore makes walking not the fun activity we know it is.
Where did the 10,000 step goal come from?
The 10,000 daily step recommendation is not a new one at all and actually has its roots in Japan as far back as the 1960s. The first wearable step counter was introduced in Japan in 1965, right after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. They called it manpo-kei, which means 10,000 step-meter. Researchers tried to determine the health benefits that could be had from doubling step counts from the 3,500 – 5,000 daily average to 10,000 and determined that risk of coronary artery disease could be decreased with greater activity levels.
The common consensus in the medical field today is that increasing your activity levels beyond normal daily walking does indeed result in better health and even longer life. But whether or not 10,000 is the key figure for you depends on what your normal daily activity level looks like to begin. This is, of course, very individualized and depends on your unique situation.
Goals for people with health conditions or physical limitations
If you have a serious health condition or an injury, or if you’re a senior or a heavier individual you may need to set a more modest step goal. That’s ok! Walking is really only a competition with yourself to get as active and stay as active as you can be. If you’re able to get a half hour of brisk walking every day (at whatever pace is brisk for you), you’re meeting your minimum fitness needs. If this ends up as around 3,000 or 4,000 steps per day, that can be a win for you. Studies have shown that even relatively small amounts of light exercise can reduce your risk of death, so it’s important to get as active as you can even if you can’t hit a specific number.
If you have a health condition or physical limitation, talk to your doctor about an appropriate step goal for you. The most important thing is getting active, whatever your goal is!
What’s the minimum step goal that a healthy adult should reach?
The average adult should be getting in approximately 30 minutes of exercise daily on at least 5 days a week. Studies to determine average daily steps give varied results: According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult walks 3,000-4,000 steps daily. One study found the number was 5,117.
A brisk, 30-minute walk at a speed of 3-4 miles an hour can add an extra 3,000-4,500 steps a day, per VeryWellFit. This could bump you up to 8,000 or more steps daily. The actual distance you’ll go depends on your step length, which you can estimate here.
Provided you do not have a serious medical condition, most healthy adults exercising for 30 minutes daily should be getting in between 6,000-8,000 steps.
Who should go for 10,000 steps?
When you’re just getting started on a walking routine, 8,000 steps may be the most you can get in a day. As you build your endurance, you may want to increase this to get the additional benefits of walking more. It may take some creativity and effort to get 2,000-4,000 extra steps in, but those extra steps really add up. They can speed up your weight loss progress, improve your physical conditioning, strengthen your muscles, heart and lungs and may even help decrease blood pressures and cholesterol levels.
We’ve covered why 10,000 steps per day is such an important, popular goal. By increasing your weekly activity level from 150 minutes (30 minutes, 5 times per week) to 300 minutes (60 minutes, 5 times per week), you can gain even more health benefits. That 10,000 step number can often take you to this increased activity goal.
If you can already easily reach 8,000 steps daily, try adding on 2,000 steps or only 15 minutes daily for greater health benefits. Hit that famous 10k step goal!
Who Might Benefit From 15,000-20,000 Steps Daily?
If you walk as part of your job, or if you have the time to take some long fitness walks or jogs, stepping up to 15,000 or 20,000 steps per day can be an amazing goal.
Take, for example, postal workers. The New York Times reported that Scottish postal workers whose job involved a mail delivery route racked up 15,000 steps, or 7 miles daily. They “generally had normal body mass indexes, waistlines and metabolic profiles”, meaning no increased risk for heart disease. Postal workers with desk jobs who sat up to 15 hours a day, on the other hand, had worse cholesterol profiles and blood sugar control. They also showed higher weight and waist girth, thereby increasing their risk of heart disease.
That doesn’t mean that you have to get 15,000 steps daily to get health benefits from walking, but getting that many steps can make an amazing difference in your health and fitness. It’s important to note that you should only build up to a high step goal gradually. If you’re currently at 10,000 steps, that extra 5,000 steps can be a lot harder than you might think. Focus on building up your numbers a little at a time until you’ve reached your final goal. A great way to get a lot of steps in a short amount of time is to incorporate interval training to increase your walking speed to brisk and beyond. Here’s a 15-minute walking workout to get you started.
Some of the following results have been reported by those who incorporated 15,000-20,000 steps daily.
- Weight Loss – Over the course of one year, Ty Storey, an overweight Canadian told Men’s Health how he took off a shocking 130 pounds by walking 20,000 steps a day.
- Increased Productivity and Sounder Sleep – April Rueb, writes for Prevention, that her 20,000 step daily habit helped her to accomplish more from her improved energy levels and resulted in a better night’s sleep.
- No Time – Since 15,000-20,000 steps could require an extra 2 hours daily dedicated to walking alone, you may struggle to find the time in your busy schedule. You may not want to sacrifice time with your family or be able to sidestep your responsibilities in the name of doubling your daily steps.
- Physical Limitations and Health Problems – If you are limited by health issues or low energy, getting over 10,000 steps may be too much of a stretch and could even put unnecessary strain on your body.
- Burnout – Walking should be fun! If you feel so focused on the number that you’re not enjoying your walks, reduce your goal a bit until you’re able to enjoy the full step number!
If you’re in good health and easily reaching your 10,000 step goal, try going for a higher step goal of 15,000-20,000 for benefits like greater weight loss, improved mental clarity, higher energy levels, and sounder sleep.
There’s no one “right” or “best” step goal that fits everyone. Your step goal is highly dependent on your individual situation, fitness level and amount of time you can devote to walking.
You should set a goal that’s achievable, but still challenging to motive you to get active. The most important goal is to get more active and healthy, regardless of whether your step goal is 4,000 steps, 10,000 steps or 20,000 steps!
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