Forget 10,000 steps – here’s how much you should actually walk per day, according to science

Walking
  • Walking can help reduce your risk of illness and improve mental and physical health.
  • But it’s an old marketing myth that the optimal number is 10,000 steps a day.
  • For health, researchers found 7,000 to 8,000 daily steps was beneficial.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Despite the recommendations of pedometers everywhere, there’s nothing scientific to the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, for health or for weight loss.

That magic number is an arbitrary one that originated as an advertising campaign decades ago.

While walking is great for your health, research suggests 7,000 to 8,000 steps might be a better goal.

10,000 steps a day started as a marketing slogan

The idea that walking 10,000 steps is optimal came from a catchy ad in Japanese, according to Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard paleoanthropologist who has studied the evolution of exercise.

Lieberman wrote in his recent book, “Exercised,” that the Manpo-kei (translated as 10,000-step meter) was invented in the 1960s by the Japanese company Yamasa Tokei – the producer of the first commercial pedometer – which chose the name because it sounded good.

And it worked.

The company sold its product, and the concept became popularized all over the world as a metric for health.

Walking is great for your health, but you don’t need to hit a certain target to see benefits

Lieberman told Insider there were some perks to getting 10,000 steps a day.

It’s a convenient number for people to remember, walking that much (about 8km a day) is linked to health benefits, and walking is an accessible activity for many.

“We all have deep fundamental instincts to avoid unnecessary activity, so we need those nudges to help people get started,” Lieberman said.

But it’s not necessary hit 10,000 steps a day, research shows, and the health perks of walking may be on a spectrum.

A 2019 study on older women found that those who walked 4,400 steps a day had lower mortality rates over four years of follow-up than those who walked the least (about 2,700 steps a day or fewer).

But the reduction in risk appeared to max out at about 7,500 steps a day, and researchers found no additional benefits to walking 10,000 or more daily steps.

Similarly, a 2020 study found that taking 8,000 to 12,000 steps a day was linked to lower risk of dying of any cause during the study, compared with 4,000 steps a day.

Together, these studies suggest that moving more can benefit your health, whether or not you hit the magic number.

Some evidence suggests walking doesn’t lead to significant weight loss long term

There’s some evidence that people who walk 10,000 steps a day are more likely to lose weight than those who walk just 3,500 steps daily. It seems to make intuitive sense that adding a few extra miles to your routine would help, thanks to the extra calories you’re burning.

But new research suggests that may not be the case.

Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary biologist, collected data showing that traditional hunter-gatherers, who walk miles each day, burn nearly the same number of calories as sedentary Americans.

His theory to explain this is that, over time, the body compensates for extra energy you burn through exercise by budgeting more carefully or increasing your hunger signals so you eat more to make up for it.

While this theory is somewhat controversial and requires more research, it suggests the relationship between walking and weight loss isn’t as straightforward as people may think. So walking 10,000 steps a day isn’t a hard and fast rule for shedding pounds any more than it’s a prescription for better health.

If you are looking to lose weight, there’s no harm in walking, but changing your diet is key – and evidence suggests combing those measures leads to the best results.