You’ve probably heard you’re “supposed” to walk 10,000 steps a day. But, it turns out there’s no magic behind that number. Japanese pedometers popularized the 10,000 steps goal back in the 1960s.
You may love a morning stroll or a brisk power walk in the park. Or perhaps tuning into your wearable device may prompt you to move more at work.
Here’s why walking thousands of steps can benefit your health as a whole.
Steps to Miles
“Ten thousand steps at a leisurely pace is roughly five miles. It burns about 500 extra calories a day, so it is a worthwhile endeavor,” says Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth of NYC Surgical Associates. “A five-mile walk everyday will increase your exercise tolerance. Also, it’ll make you more likely to engage in similar activities which have the potential to improve your cardiovascular health.”
“Reaching a goal of 10,000 steps a day is a good indicator you are getting the amount of physical activity recommended to reduce health risks,” explains walking expert Wendy Bumgardner. “Few people have active, non-sedentary jobs. Most are getting sustained physical activity sessions that total 30 minutes a day or more if they reach 10,000 steps per day.”
This satisfies the Centers for Disease and Control recommendation that people get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. This is in addition to two or more days of strength training.
“The average American gets about 3-4,000 steps per day, so the new word on the street is actually 7,500 steps a day [instead of 10,000],” notes Dr. David Sabgir, founder of Walk With a Doc. “This serves as a more reasonable goal that will keep people motivated.”
Not sure how to count your steps? You can utilize a pedometer or personal device to digitally track steps. Some options are an Apple Watch, Fitbit or Jawbone. Or, you can roughly calculate by attributing 1,000 steps (at a moderate to brisk pace) to each mile of walking.
Safeguard Your Health
Upping the amount you walk leads to a ton of positive health benefits. These can include improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. The farther you walk, the more calories you’ll burn. But you don’t necessarily have to break into a sweat to see wins related to blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
Also, pace matters. “It is best to infuse some fast walking into the routine to raise your heart rate,” says Jennifer Walsh of The Healthy Entrepreneur. “This will help not only help metabolism but will also help in losing weight by infusing hurts of cardio. Walking 20-30 minutes a day with some bursts of fast walking or walking uphill will help your heart and your body.”
Dr. Sabgir encourages people to aim for 100 steps per minute, or around three miles per hour as a steady walking speed. However, it depends on how physically fit you might be in the first place.
“The best health benefits come from doing 30 minutes or more a day of brisk walking rather than strolling at an easy pace,” states Bumgardner. “The speed of brisk walking is really a measure of exertion. You need to be exerting yourself enough that your breathing is faster and your heart rate is elevated. Some people will sustain that at slower speeds, while others will need to walk at a very fast pace.”
Walsh says, if anything, the emphasis on walking 10,000 steps a day has made more people aware of the importance of moving throughout the day. “Many of us are tied to our desks all day and having a Fitbit-type item remind us to move. Many of the people and companies I work with have actually integrated a step challenge every month into their businesses to infuse a healthier work culture.”
“It improves exercise tolerance. That makes you better able to survive any kind of added stress to your body, like surgery, injury or illness,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “Walking causes metabolic changes that tend to burn fat, increase lean muscle mass and lower blood sugar. Adding a 5-mile walk to your daily routine can increase the amount of calories burned by about 500 calories a day.”
Additionally, regular walking boosts your creativity, lowers stress, decreases depression and anxiety, improves cognition, and increases energy levels.
“The top benefits related to walking are a reduction in your health risks for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer,” says Bumgardner. “Benefits like stress relief (especially if you walk in an area with plants and trees), mood elevation, and the increased blood flow to your brain can improve your cognitive abilities. Walking supports your balance, stability, and bone health, all of which are increasingly important as you age.”
Since walking less than 5,000 steps a day is technically considered sedentary behavior, keep your baseline between 7,500 and 10,000. “Walking is an easy, relaxing way to add many years and more importantly, a lot of quality, to your life,” says Dr. Sabgir.