Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
May 7, 2022
Do Your Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?

If you’re a walker, you’ve probably heard the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps (or about five miles) every day for health. Did you ever wonder how experts arrived at this amount? 

Not through science. The original concept came from a 1964 Japanese marketing campaign to promote an early pedometer called Manpo-Kei, which is literally translated 10,000 steps meter. Naturally, as the pedometer craze hit the U.S. around 2005, the 10k-step concept became popular here — and it has stuck

But are 10,000 steps a day really necessary for your health?

The Steps for Health Collaborative, an international team of researchers led by a researcher from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMASS) wanted to know. Turns out, taking more steps a day does help lower the risk of premature death, according to result published The Lacet Public Health. But the number of recommended steps varies by age.

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies that evaluated the effect a daily step count had on all-cause mortality among adults 18 years and older. Nearly 50,000 subjects were involved in the studies. Data was adjusted for sociodemographic factors, lifestyle behaviors and health indicators known to affect the association between steps and mortality, e.g., smoking, alcohol intake, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood sugar/diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Here’s what was found:

  • People 60 and older need between 6,000 and 8,000 per day to help prevent premature death.
  • People younger than 60 need between 8,000 and 10,000 per day to help prevent premature death.
  • No definitive association to walking speed and premature death. It’s about the steps, not the pace.

These results corresponded with another UMASS-led study that was published in JAMA. In that study, researchers followed 2,110 accelerometer-wearing adults with an average age of 45 for about 10 years. They found middle-aged adults who took approximately 7,000 steps per day had lower mortality rates between 50 and 70 percent than those taking less than 7,000 steps per day. Once again, researchers didn’t see a link between walking speed and mortality.

“Like most studies, this one has some limitations. For example, the study design is effective for finding a correlation, but not establishing a cause and effect,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Researchers couldn’t measure mortality risk among participants who were walking more than 12,000 steps a day – a common recommendation for weight loss. However, they did find a link between walking 7,000 a day and lower mortality.”

Health Benefits of Walking

There are significant benefits to physical activity in general. Here are a handful that walking provides.

  • Helps prevent falls and serious complications – one in five falls causes a severe injury such as a broken bone or head injury. In fact, more than 800,000 Americans are hospitalized each year because of a fall injury -- usually head injury or hip fracture, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, one in three adults over age 50 with a hip fracture will die within 12 months. But walking helps strengthen lower body muscles (which can help prevent falls) and is weight bearing, improving bone density and lowering the risk of fractures. 
  • Helps manage weight – extra weight raises your risk for potentially life-threatening issues such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer (colon, breast and endometrial), according to the World Health Organization. Walking is an effective method of burning calories. Walking longer, faster and uphill will help you burn even more. 
  • Lowers blood sugar – high blood sugar is linked with diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to kidney disease, blindness, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. Research suggests diabetes raised premature mortality by five percent between 2000 and 2016. When you engage in moderate exercise, such as walking, your working muscles will update sugar from the bloodstream, over time, lowering your overall blood sugar levels.
  • Lowers blood pressure – high blood pressure wears on blood vessels and inflames them. Once the inner lining is damaged, it’s easier for LDL (bad cholesterol) particles to enter and accumulate in the arterial wall, turn to plaque and block the artery, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Exercise such as walking helps lower blood vessel stiffness, allowing blood to flow more freely. 
  • Improves cholesterol – bad cholesterol can build along the inner lining of arteries, eventually occluding them – leading to a cardiovascular event. Good cholesterol, however, transports bad cholesterol to the liver, where it is cleared out of the body. Walking is valuable because it helps raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. 
  • Strengthens cardiovascular system – coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Walking may help stave off this condition by strengthening your heart and lowering heart disease risk factors like type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol profile. Studies also have found that walking can help prevent heart failure in women.  

“Walking is a relatively inexpensive, easy activity with a myriad of healthy benefits,” says Kaminetsky. “Remember to talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program, including walking.”

Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with MDVIP. Physicians in MDVIP-affiliated practices can customize a wellness plan for you. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health » 
 


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Walking Helps Prevent Heart Failure in Women / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / February 2, 2021
Want to Run a Marathon? Train at a Slower Pace for Your Heart / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / July 3, 2020

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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