Most of us have heard we should aim to walk 10,000 steps a day. It’s touted as being the magic number to reach when it comes to health and fitness (12). But is walking 10,000 steps really all it’s cracked up to be? In short, yes and no. Ultimately, it depends on your individual health and fitness needs. For some people, walking 10,000 steps a day is indeed the ideal goal.
As this is a steady-state exercise, it’s excellent for those who are just getting started with fitness or those who want a low-impact form of exercise. Plus, walking has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, and even help regulate blood sugar levels (21).
But for others, 10,000 steps may be too much or even unnecessary. People who are already very active may find that 10,000 steps don’t offer them the challenge they need. They may need to mix up their routine with higher-intensity activities, like running or playing sports.
And for people with pre-existing health conditions, 10,000 steps may be too much. For them, talking to a doctor beforehand is key.
In this article, we’ll look into the 10,000 steps challenge; what it is, whether it’s effective, and how to make the most of it. We’ll also look into if this goal is right for you and how to adjust it to fit your individual needs.
What Is the 10,000 Steps Challenge?
In 1965, a Japanese company called Yamasa released the first pedometer called “Manpo-kei” – which translates to “10,000 steps meter”. It became an instant hit and the phrase “10,000 steps a day” quickly caught on to become a popular fitness mantra.
The 10,000 steps challenge is based on the idea that if you walk 10,000 steps a day, you’ll improve your overall health and fitness. This can be achieved by wearing a fitness tracking device and counting the number of steps you take each day.
How Much Walking Is 10,000 Steps A Day?
In general, 10,000 steps are equal to approximately 5 miles or 8 kilometers. That’s about an hour of walking at a brisk pace. However, the exact amount of walking needed to reach 10,000 steps depends on your individual stride length.
Read More: Is Walking In Place A Good Exercise?
Is 10,000 Steps A Good Walking Challenge?
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at 16,741 women over 3 years to determine whether increased steps resulted in lower mortality (1).
The study found that women who took 4,400 steps per day had a 41% lower risk of death than those who took 2,700 steps. Those who took 7,500 steps a day had a 65% lower risk of death (1).
What this means is that for overall health, 10,000 steps might be a lofty goal. You don’t need to reach that number every day. You can start with a lower goal and increase it gradually over time.
That said, some people could benefit from setting a goal of 10,000 steps. For example:
- People who aren’t active – when you can’t set aside time to exercise, counting steps throughout the day can help you make progress towards your fitness goals.
- People who need a quantifiable goal – if you need an exact goal to strive for, 10,000 steps a day can give you something concrete to work towards.
- People who want to lose weight – as walking burns calories, it can be a great way to kick-start your weight loss journey. 10,000 steps a day can help you burn an extra 500 calories, which could aid in weight loss.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Walking?
On the surface, walking seems like a simple activity, but it offers numerous health and wellness benefits. Walking can help you:
Burn Calories For Weight Loss
Weight loss is the outcome of a calorie deficit – meaning you expend more calories than you consume (7). Walking along with consuming a healthy diet can help create that calorie deficit, enabling you to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight (15).
How many calories you burn while walking depends on several factors, namely:
- Walking speed – this determines the intensity of your exercise, and how much energy it demands from your body. Walking faster, like in the case of speed walking, burns more calories.
- Your weight – a heavier person burns more calories than a lighter one
- Distance walked – the further you go, the greater number of calories
- The terrain – walking uphill increases the intensity of your activity and therefore burns more calories
Improve Heart Health
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week in order to maintain good heart health. This is because physical activity like walking triggers several positive effects on your cardiovascular system, including (9):
- Enhanced circulation – walking improves blood flow, which helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your whole body.
- Lower cholesterol levels – regular walking can help reduce bad cholesterol levels, thus keeping your heart healthy and safe.
- Better blood pressure – walking regularly helps reduce high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
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Lower Blood Sugar
When you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose and sends it to your bloodstream. The hormone insulin then helps your cells absorb the glucose, which is used for energy.
In people with diabetes, however, their bodies either fail to produce enough insulin or don’t use it efficiently. This results in high blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous (14).
High blood sugar levels aren’t only a concern for diabetic people; they can also affect those who are pre-diabetic, or at risk of developing diabetes.
Pre-diabetics can help prevent the disease by walking regularly, as it helps your body use insulin more efficiently and keep blood sugar levels in check (17).
Anyone at risk of diabetes i.e. people who are overweight, have a family history of the condition, or are over 45 years old should consider walking as a way to prevent the disease.
Research shows that taking a short walk after eating is especially beneficial for managing blood sugar levels (13). Doing so can help reduce the spike in glucose after meals and keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Preserve Cognitive Health
Our brains need to be regularly exercised to remain healthy and sharp. Similarly, with age, our brains become slower and our memory weakens.
Studies also show that walking can increase the production of serotonin, a hormone that helps cognitive functioning and emotional well-being (16). Serotonin levels typically decrease with age, so regular walking is a great way to keep your mind young and healthy.
Furthermore, the improved blood flow that results from walking helps deliver more oxygen to your brain, which can help improve your focus and concentration (19).
Ease Joint Pain
Walking is a low-impact exercise that can help reduce joint pain and stiffness (3). The gentle movement of your joints when walking helps keep them from seizing up, and the increased blood flow helps reduce inflammation.
Strengthening your muscles can also help reduce joint pain and stiffness, as it takes the pressure off your joints.
To use walking to manage joint pain, you have to be very careful with the intensity of your activity. Start with a slow pace and gradually increase the speed as your joints loosen up. Also, make sure to keep your muscles warm with a light stretch before and after your walks.
Rest and recovery are very important in this case; walking too much may aggravate your joint pain so it is important to give your body enough time to rest and recover.
Strengthen Bones And Muscles
Weight-bearing exercises like walking can help strengthen your bones and muscles. Walking helps increase bone density, especially in the hips and spine, which reduces the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (5).
It can also help strengthen your muscles, as walking works the major muscle groups in your legs and abdominals. Strong muscles help you maintain good posture and reduce the risk of back pain (4).
Boost Immune Function
Compared to a sedentary lifestyle, regular exercise helps reduce the risk of illness and enhances your immune system. Walking is especially beneficial as it can reduce inflammation in your body while boosting your production of white blood cells (6).
Boost Your Energy Levels
This might seem ironic, but walking can give you more energy.
Regular physical activity helps your body use oxygen more efficiently, which then increases the amount of energy available to your body (22). This increased energy can help you feel more alert and energized throughout the day.
In addition, walking increases your body’s production of endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel happy and energized (19). If you’re feeling sluggish or tired, taking a short walk may help give you a nice burst of energy.
Longer Life Expectancy
Regular moderate physical activity, such as walking, can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses (10). This can help you extend your life expectancy and improve your quality of life.
Studies show that people who walk for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of mortality than those who are sedentary (20).
How Often Should You Walk?
For most people, walking for 30 minutes a day is enough to get the health benefits described above. However, more or less time may be needed if:
- You have a specific health condition – your doctor may advise you to increase or decrease the amount of time you spend walking
- You are trying to lose weight – increasing the number and intensity of walks may be beneficial
- You are training for a race – more intense, longer walks may be necessary to reach your goal
It is also important to remember that rest days are just as important as active days. Take a day off every week to give your body a chance to recover and replenish energy levels.
How To Get Started
If you are new to walking, start by:
Incorporating More Steps Into Your Day
The 10,000 steps a day goal is a good place to start, and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you’re too busy to fit in a long walk, break it up into smaller chunks, such as two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks. This will still give you the same benefits as a single longer walk.
When walking, keep your back straight and your head up. If you’re using a phone or other device while walking, make sure to keep it at a comfortable level where you can see the screen without having to hunch over.
Perfect your form further by:
- Landing on the heel of your foot and rolling through to the ball as you push off.
- Keeping your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, swinging them backwards and forwards in time with your steps.
- Keeping a steady pace and breathing rhythmically.
Make It Enjoyable
Enjoying physical activity makes it easier to stick with it. So, make your walks more enjoyable by:
- Listening to upbeat music – can help you keep a steady pace.
- Taking a scenic route – stop to admire the view and take photos along the way if you want.
- Making it a social activity – walking with a friend can make it more fun.
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Ensuring Your Comfort
Discomfort is a surefire way to make walking less enjoyable. So, before you hit the pavement:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes – find a pair of shoes that are designed for walking and that fit you properly.
- Stay hydrated – take a water bottle with you and drink regularly throughout the walk.
- Protect yourself from the sun – wear a hat and sunscreen if necessary.
Taking Safety Precautions
It is important to take safety precautions when walking. Make sure to:
- Be visible – wear bright and reflective clothing, especially if you are walking in the dark.
- Stay alert – stay aware of your surroundings and walk with confidence.
- Follow the rules – obey traffic signals and stay on the sidewalk if possible.
Without tracking your progress, it can be hard to stay motivated. Consider using a fitness tracker or app to measure:
- Distance walked
- Calories burned
- Time spent walking
Tracking your progress serves as a reminder of how far you’ve come and can help keep you motivated to continue.
Eating Nutrient-Dense, Energy-Providing Foods
Walking requires energy, and it’s important to fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods (8). Incorporate the following foods into your diet:
- Whole grains – such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Fruits and vegetables – adding more of these to your diet will provide you with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Protein sources – such as legumes, nuts, and eggs.
- Healthy fats – such as avocados and olive oil.
A healthy diet can help you to get the most out of your walks.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know the benefits of walking and how to get started, it’s time to lace up your shoes and get moving! Walking is an easy way to boost your health, both mentally and physically.
With the right attitude and a commitment to making it part of your daily routine, you can reap the rewards in no time.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women (2019, jamanetwork.com)
- Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee OA: An observational study (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effectiveness of two Arthritis Foundation programs: Walk With Ease, and YOU Can Break the Pain Cycle (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise-induced immune system response: Anti-inflammatory status on peripheral and central organs (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Food as Fuel Before, During and After Workouts (2015, heart.org)
- Getting more exercise than guidelines suggest may further lower death risk (2022, heart.org)
- Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Histology, White Blood Cell (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How many steps/day are enough? for adults (2011, biomedcentral.com)
- Impact of Walking on Glycemic Control and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Insulin Resistance and Diabetes (2021, cdc.gov)
- Moderate Walking Enhances the Effects of an Energy-Restricted Diet on Fat Mass Loss and Serum Insulin in Overweight and Obese Adults in a 12-Week Randomized Controlled Trial (2017, academic.oup.com)
- Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review (2016, frontiersin.org)
- Steps to Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Exercise, Walk More, or Sit Less? (2012, frontiersin.org)
- The Beneficial Effects of Cognitive Walking Program on Improving Cognitive Function and Physical Fitness in Older Adults (2021, mdpi.com)
- The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Walking – the first steps in cardiovascular disease prevention (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Walking to health (1997, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Your lungs and exercise (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)