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Are 10,000 steps a myth or a good fitness measure?

Nowadays, we track everything from the calories and portions we eat to the steps we take. But does counting our steps make a difference? 

In theory, counting steps is a positive habit because you’re trying to move throughout the day. You’re also holding yourself accountable for meeting a specific fitness target. What was unclear until recently was whether there's any science to 10,000 steps being the gold standard.

To count or not to count

Ten thousand steps became a popular walking measure in the 1960s with Japan's launch of the first step counter. It was less of a scientific measurement and more of a clever marketing tactic. Most fitness trackers have adopted 10,000 steps as the gold standard because it adds up to about five miles a day, which equals 30 minutes of exercise for most people.

What the data show

Researchers have studied step counts before and the impact on health and longevity, but they studied older adults or people with debilitating conditions. 

A recent study focused on adults older than 40 and found a connection between higher daily step counts and a lower risk of dying from all causes. But to the researchers' surprise, step intensity–the number of steps per minute–didn’t make a difference. Here’s what the study found:

  • People who took 8,000 steps per day, compared to 4,000 steps, had a 51% lower risk of dying from all causes. 

  • People who took 12,000 steps per day had a 65% lower risk than those taking 4,000 steps. 

  • The authors found no connection between step intensity and risk of death after analyzing the total number of steps taken per day.

The takeaway: move more, sit less

Sitting too much can put us at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon and lung cancers. In another study of 100,000 people in 21 countries, people who sat for six to eight hours a day had a 13% increased risk for early death and heart disease. And that risk was higher for those who sat for more than eight hours daily (approximately 13%).

Even if you've been sedentary for years, today is the day you can begin transforming your life. Here are some helpful tips to get started:

  • Set a reachable goal for today. You can work toward the recommended amount by increasing your time, distance, or steps as you get stronger. 

  • Start walking. Walking is the simplest way to get moving and improve your health. It's free, and you can do it anywhere. Break it up into short bouts of activity throughout the day. A brisk walk for five or ten minutes a few times a day will add up.

  • Talk to your doctor. If you have a chronic condition or disability, talk with your doctor before making any changes. 

Being more active is good for our physical and mental health. Step into better health by seeing your primary care doctor and scheduling a wellness exam. Don’t have a doctor? Find one by clicking here.


Higher Daily Step Count Linked with Lower All-cause Mortality | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids | American Heart Association

Number of steps per day more important than step intensity | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Association of Sitting Time With Mortality and Cardiovascular Events in High-Income, Middle-Income, and Low-Income Countries | Cardiology | JAMA Cardiology | JAMA Network

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids | American Heart Association

How many steps/day are enough? for adults - PMC (