Why you don’t need 10k steps to see surprising health benefits

10,000 steps per day is a popular walking goal, but it turns out that you can still get a lot of amazing benefits from walking with far fewer than that – as little as a few thousand steps per day! Starting a new exercise routine can be exciting, but not everyone is able to reach a 10,000 step goal. Don’t be discouraged, because even small amounts of walking can reduce your risk of death, increase your endurance and improve your mood.

Many factors can make it difficult to hit 10,000 steps, or even the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. It may be that your time is very limited, you have health problems, or you’ve had a temporary setback like an injury that doesn’t allow you to get very many steps. That’s fine! One of the reasons walking is the most recommended form of cardio exercise is that it’s so versatile. Nearly anyone can start a walking routine, regardless of your physical condition or life situation.

While 10,000 steps is a great goal, it doesn’t need to be your goal. If it’s out of your reach, simply readjust your personal step goal to meet your specific needs.

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How Many Steps a Day do Researchers Suggest?

People walking in crosswalk in New York City
Ryan DeBerardinis / Shutterstock

Once again, there is no specific number of steps that every person should take. Just getting up and getting active, even if it’s only five minutes every hour, will have a positive impact on your life.

To put things in perspective, 10,000 steps a day equates to approximately five miles. When you put it in terms of miles rather than steps, it begins to make a little more sense. If five miles sounds like too much for you, start by walking one extra mile per day (about an extra 2,112 steps). If you reach that goal and are looking to increase your steps, two miles a day is only 4,224 steps. When you think of it like that, it sounds a lot better and may take off some of the pressure.

Where did the 10,000 step goal come from?

Japanese women walking in Tokyo
oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

Like many fads that changed the history of how we go about day-to-day life such as pocket calculators, the Walkman, and android robots it all began when new technology was developed in Japan. In this case, it was the world’s first pedometer known as the ‘manpo-kei.‘ Developed in 1960, the manpo-kei was intended for walking groups. When translated to English, the manpo-kei means ‘10,000 steps meter.’

It was a catchy name with an easily remembered number, and just like that everyone began to recommend 10,000 steps a day. There’s plenty of scientific research to show that walking is beneficial to your health, but there’s no specific study that says you have to reach 10,000 steps before you begin to reap the benefits. In fact, the CDC recommends that an adult get “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week.” Break down the numbers and that’s about 20 minutes a day of moderate exercise or 10 minutes a day of vigorous activity.

Walking Has Great Benefits Even at Low Step Counts

Older business people walking in a park
Kzenon / Shutterstock

Walking can improve your health at step counts much lower than 10,000 steps per day. Recent studies show that older women who walk as few as 4,400 steps/day enjoy an increased life span. Older women who walked 4,400 steps daily had a 41% decreased risk of death compared to women who only took 2,700 steps daily.

4,400 steps is a little over two miles a day, which is far more manageable than five miles. Live Strong reports that two miles a day combined with a healthy diet can help you lose weight.

Other well-known benefits of walking include:

Some surprising benefits of walking include:

If this is not enough to convince you that any amount of walking is healthy, according to the American Heart Association, “Getting recommended levels of exercise weekly may help keep down annual medical costs.” So you’re getting healthier, living longer, and saving money. What’s not to love

Other Benefits of Small Amounts of Walking

Almost everyone can benefit from moving a bit more. Regardless of your step count, getting active for short periods of time has short-term and long-term benefits like these:

Walking counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting

Diverse team of young businesspeople walking
ESB Professional / Shutterstock

We’ve covered how extended periods of sitting can increase your risk of death or serious health problems. Regardless of your overall step count, standing up and moving around for as little as 1 minute every 30 minutes can help to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. Taking a 5-minute walking break every hour can undo the effects of that hour of sitting and reduce your risk of serious health conditions. If walking is difficult because of your job or living arrangements, try to at least stand up and move a bit – it could be as simple as taking a bathroom break or getting some water.

Walking can increase your energy level

Senior couple walking on treadmills
nd3000 / Shutterstock

Studies have shown that taking short walks can actually improve your energy and make you feel more awake. A study found that just 10-minutes of low-to-moderate intensity stair walking had the same effect on the female participants as the amount of caffeine in about a cup of coffee. For sleep-deprived women, the effect was even greater! If you’re tired at work, try taking a short break to walk up and down a flight of stairs or two. You’ll burn even more calories than regular walking and you might feel more energized too.

Short walks can improve mood and make you feel happier

Middle aged female jogger with armband
Rido / Shutterstock

Walking can improve your mood and happiness, and the effects of walking on mood can persist even after you’re finished walking. Studies show that walking increases feelings of happiness, and can make even boring tasks more enjoyable. Regardless of your overall step goal, if you’re feeling down or faced with a task you don’t want to do, try taking a short 5-10 minute walk at whatever pace you’re able to. You may find yourself feeling more positive and ready to tackle any situation.

Walking reduces risks of death – even in small amounts

Senior woman walking after surgery

Walking is especially important for seniors, as exercise can help prevent memory loss and brain aging as well as improve overall health. European researchers found that even people who did half the recommended amount of exercise (the low activity group) had a 22% lower risk of death when compared to the inactive group. While meeting the 150 minute per week activity guidelines would be ideal and confer even greater benefits, even 10-15 minutes of walking.

Is 10,000 Steps a Day Unrealistic? Or Worse, a Waste of Time?

Couple walking or jogging for fitness
nd3000 / Shutterstock

No, it’s not unrealistic and it’s certainly not a waste of time. Reaching 10,000 steps a day is a great goal to have, but it may be one that you have to work up to over a period of months vs days. Setting huge goals and trying to reach them as rapidly as possible is only going to work against you. Many people who have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude often end up burning out and stopping exercise altogether.

For some people, 10,000 steps is not a realistic goal. That’s fine! Everyone’s fitness level, age, physical limitations, and life situation are different. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and to get as active as you can for your situation.

Start out small. If you find it easy to complete your goal, increase your step count until you feel like you had a hard workout but not so hard that you’re extremely sore or concerned you’ll injure yourself. Once this goal becomes easy to meet, increase it again. This is a healthy way to reach 10,000 steps or more.

10,000 Steps is Too Much for Me. What Now?

Businessman with injury wanting to walk more
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

For individuals with diseases like fibromyalgia, arthritis in the legs and back, or someone trying to overcome an injury, 10,000 steps may be unattainable, but that doesn’t mean you have no options for exercising. Walking may still be an option for you. It’s only a matter of setting smaller goals. Adding in other exercise routines such as swimming, water aerobics, and yoga can also have great benefits. These are all low impact exercises that burn calories and are easy on tired achy joints.

Final Thoughts

Walking has amazing health benefits at even low levels of activity. While reaching the CDC recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is ideal, even half that can improve your health and lower your risk of death.

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23 thoughts on “Why you don’t need 10k steps to see surprising health benefits

    1. Glad to hear it inspired you! Walking more benefits most people, regardless of what your step number is. It’s good to know that even a relatively small increase in steps (from ~2,700 to 4,400) can make a big difference!

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