Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps A Day?

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With the explosion of technological ways to measure exercise – fitness trackers, smart watches, and even simple smartphone apps — people are more conscious than ever about how many steps they take daily. And with good reason. Health authorities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association recommend people get 150 minutes of physical activity weekly. That adds up to about 10,000 steps a day.

“Pedometers and other tracking tools make it easy for people to stay on top of their fitness routines,” says Nessreen Rizvi, M.D., an internist at Henry Ford Health System. “They’re motivating, easy to use and some models allow you to upload your data, monitor your pulse and track calories burned.”

10,000 Steps Explained

But where did the “10,000 steps per day” recommendation come from? What does it really mean? And how can you make sure you meet your daily quota? We asked Dr. Rizvi to explain where the figure came from and how to use it as a benchmark to achieve your health and wellness goals.

Q: Why 10,000 Steps?

A: More marketing gimmick than science, the 10,000 number dates back to 1960s Japan when a company called Yamasa created the world’s first wearable pedometer. Called manpo-kei, which literally translates to “10,000-step meter,” it caught on quickly. Later, Japanese health authorities studied the concept and concluded that the average Japanese person took between 3,000 and 5,000 steps daily. If they increased that number to 10,000 steps, the researchers argued, they would significantly reduce their risk of coronary heart disease.

Q: Is there any research behind the number?

A: There isn’t any concrete evidence that 10,000 steps is a magical prescription for health and fitness. But studies suggest that people who take 10,000 steps daily have lower blood pressure, more stable blood sugar levels and better mood than those who take fewer steps. There is also plenty of research to suggest that getting 150 minutes of exercise each week can improve health, physical fitness and emotional well-being. Walk at a moderate pace for 30 minutes and you’ll likely take about 3,000 to 4,000 steps. So, if you’re taking 10,000 steps each day, you’re surpassing the CDC’s recommendation for physical activity.

Q: What are some of the advantages of tracking your steps?

A: If you’re tracking your steps, you’re doing some exercise — and you know exactly how much activity you’re getting. You can upload your data to share with health care providers or family members. You can even start a step tracking challenge with family and friends. Other perks: Some step trackers monitor pulse and heart rate as well as calories burned.

Q: What are the drawbacks?

A: Fitness trackers aren’t always accurate. If you have a particularly long or short stride, your pedometer may not be able to get an accurate count of how many steps you’re taking. More important, taking 10,000 steps daily doesn’t necessarily mean you’re boosting your heart rate. Step trackers, in general, don’t measure intensity. So, if you’re puttering around the house or strolling around the block at a leisurely pace, you may not be getting the amount of activity you need for health and well-being. Another drawback: Taking steps is not a complete workout. Strength training and stretching are also important for overall fitness.

Q: Any cautionary notes about tracking steps for fitness?

A: If you have a chronic illness, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer, taking 10,000 steps daily may not be in your best interest. Similarly, if you have been sedentary for months, jumping up to 10,000 steps straight out of the gate could have adverse effects. Your best bet: Track your steps on an average day and see how many steps you take without trying. Then, gradually increase your steps by a few hundred each day (or 1,000 each week) until you reach your desired number, whether that’s 10,000 or any other figure.

Step Tracking Strategies

There’s nothing magical about that 10,000 number. Instead, your goal should be to get moving and increase your heart rate. A few tips to get started:

  • Talk to your doctor: Before you dive into a specific step tracking regimen, discuss your plans with your physician. He or she may be able to guide you to a specific goal that makes sense for you.
  • Start slow: Instead of aiming for 10,000 steps right at the beginning, start with a few thousand steps at an easy pace and work your way up.
  • Watch the competition: If joining your friends in a step challenge is interfering with your daily life — or preventing you from getting sufficient sleep — you may want to take a break from tracking your steps.
  • Move more: Take every opportunity to get yourself moving. Park at the farthest spot in the parking lot, take family walks in the evening, walk with your pets instead of letting them run in the yard. Not only will these activities enhance cardiovascular fitness, they may also improve your mood and peace of mind.

“Walking is great exercise for everyone,” Dr. Rizvi says. “It’s relatively easy on the joints and it’s an activity almost everyone can participate in and enjoy. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the intensity by carrying two-pound weights or wearing ankle weights.”


To find a doctor or provider at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. Nessreen Rizvi is an internal medicine physician, seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi.

Categories: MoveWell

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