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Why You Don't Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day

We’ve all been told a million times that taking 10,000 steps a day is necessary to reach optimal health. But have you ever questioned why?

In this blog, we’ll break down why the 10,000-step rule is so frequently recommended and why it might not actually be realistic for you.

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History of the 10,000-step recommendation:

The 10,000-step rule is actually not based on scientific research or evidence. Rather, the 10,000-step target stems from a Japanese clockmaker in the 1960s. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the clockmaker attempted to capitalize on the increased interest in fitness by pass-producing the first commercial pedometer. In English, the name of this pedometer is “10,000-step meter.” The company used the slogan “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day.”

The only reason this name and slogan were chosen is because the Japanese characters for this phrase resemble a walking man. And since then, the 10,000-step target has become embedded in global consciousness and fitness trackers alike. To reiterate, this is not because of scientific evidence or data, but because a Japanese pedometer was named to resemble a walking man in a clever marketing gimmick. In reality, the 10,000-step rule might not be the best fitness target for you, according to the research.

What the research says:

Dozens of studies have been performed on the 10,000-step rule to verify just how worthwhile the goal actually is. Here’s what the main studies have suggested:

  • A 2019 study found that women in their 70s who took at least 4,400 steps per day reduced their risk of premature death by around 40%. The researchers also found that the risk of early death continued to decrease for women walking over 5,000 steps per day. But after 7,500 daily steps and a 65% reduction in risk, the risk of death plateaued.

  • Another study from 2020 also found that 10,000 steps per day are not a requirement for longevity. This study included nearly 5,000 men and women. The researchers found that those who walked 8,000 steps per day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other ailment when compared to people who walked 4,000 steps per day. Past 8,000 steps, the statistical benefits were light, meaning it didn’t offer much more protection.

  • In terms of weight loss, one study found that 10,000 steps might not even be that much more beneficial than 3,500 steps per day. This is likely due to calorie compensation that often accompanies moderate to intense exercise.

In summary, the research described above illustrates how you don't need to walk 10,000 steps per day to achieve the benefits. Rather, staying active throughout the day and avoiding a mostly sedintary life can be just as effective as acheiving those 10,000 steps.

The bottom line:

Walking 10,000 steps per day can be a good goal to have to ensure you stay active throughout the day, but it might not always be the most realistic. One study found that even when asked by researchers to walk at least 10,000 steps per day for a year, only 8% of participants managed to reach the goal. This is likely due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for people around the world.

Statistically, the majority of adults in Western countries, like America and Canada, walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day. While for the elderly, this number might be a good one to achieve, younger adults should drive for closer to 7,000 or 8,000.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you should resist a sedentary lifestyle and try to stay active throughout the day. Walking for regular activity can help to reduce your risk of health conditions like:

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Depression

While 10,000 steps per day can be a great thing to strive for, it’s important to not get disheartened or discouraged if you don’t get there. Fitness shouldn’t be a chore or added stressor to your day. In fact, stress can actually lead to weight gain, even if you're just stressing over a workout. Rather, it's important to add more opportunities to get active throughout your day. This will help to avoid the stress of squeezing in a big workout in the morning or night.

Ways to get more active throughout the day:

We’ve compiled a list of low-stress ways to add more steps into your day. Here’s what we suggest:

  • Park farther away → Finding a parking spot farther away from the entrance of your destination is an easy way to add a couple of extra steps.

  • Take an after-dinner walk → An after-dinner walk, also known as a passeggiata, comes with health benefits like improved digestion and lower blood pressure.

  • Schedule workday walks → Add reminders to your calendar for short breaks to take a walk. Take a walking meeting or walking lunch break.

  • Take the stairs → Avoid the elevators by going up or down the stairs! Even going down the stairs will burn calories while adding steps to your day.

  • Walk while waiting → Instead of sitting in the waiting room, go for a quick walk around.

If you're interested in weight loss or more fitness tips from the Johnson Center, click here to learn more! Or contact us or email our office at

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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