Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?

If you’ve ever used a pedometer to measure your steps you may find that getting 10,000 steps per day (which is roughly 5 miles) is easier said than done. The average person takes about 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day. Even if you go out of your way to go for a walk in the country side, or walk to work, you can still find it difficult to get to 10,000 steps! The 10,000 steps a day target is encouraged by The NHS and The UK National Obesity Forum.
The 10,000 steps a day target originated in Japan in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics. A device called ‘Manpo Kei’ was launched, which means ‘10,000 step meter’. Since then, the idea that you need 10,000 steps a day has stuck. With so many devices on the market today; Fitbit, Leaf, Apple Watch, Pebble, Jawbone and many more, there is a lot of marketing around the importance of getting enough steps. As of yet these devices aren’t excellent at tracking other types of activity – like weight lifting or swimming. 10,000 steps a day is a great goal to set yourself, but there are some important points to consider before you become obsessive about fitting those extra steps in – or feel guilty for not reaching the 10,000 target.

1. If you have a sedentary life style, any extra activity is a positive step.

It’s not realistic to go from a sedentary lifestyle to zipping around doing 5 miles of walking a day. If you’re going to stick with a more active lifestyle, it’s better to make small changes that you can build on. If you’ve made today more active than yesterday, then that’s an achievement you should be proud of. PLoS One found in a study that even an increase of 1,000 steps per day reduced risk of mortality. Don’t give up just because you aren’t meeting the guidelines, just keep building up your activity slowly.

2. 10,000 Steps a day may not be suitable for you.

If you’re an older adult or are living with a chronic health condition, 10,000 steps a day may not be good for you, never mind achievable. If you’re elderly, experience joint pain or have an injury then swimming or cycling could be a better exercise for you. Swimming or cycling for an hour two or three times a week will help you meet the 150 minutes of exercise a week that is recommended by the NHS and it will be easier on your joints.

3. Not all steps are equal.

A gentle meander is better than sitting down, but it wont be as good for your fitness as a brisk walk. Another PLoS One study discovered that walking at a fast pace reduced mortality risks more than walking at a slow pace – even if the slow paced walkers were very active. We’ve written a whole blog about how to start walking for fitness. When exercising, it’s good to get your heart pumping.

The 10,000 step target is designed to get people more active, but doing a mixture of walking with another exercise will benefit you. If you are only getting 3,000 steps a day but you did half an hour of another type of exercise that can’t be step measured, that’s still beneficial.

4. You might be super fit already

If you’re already very fit and active then 10,000 steps a day might not give you much advantage to your fitness. You may need to set a higher goal. But avoid walking more than 10 miles a day, too much exercise can be bad for you. If you’re spending a lot of time each week on the pitch, dance floor, running track or in the gym then it may not be the best idea for you to aim to do a lot of walking in your spare time. A report in the Journal of American College of Cardiology showed that strenuous joggers have a mortality rate that was not so different from the people in the sedentary group. Don’t over exert yourself with exercise. If you’re extremely active, you need to be getting adequate rest so that your muscles can repair.

5. Steps don’t take strength training into account

Aerobic exercise like walking is good for our heart, but strength training is good for our bones and muscles. Strength training is not just for people who want to look big and bulky! It’s especially good for women and elderly people as it helps to slow down sarcopenia (a medical term for the muscle loss we experience as we age) and helps us avoid osteoporosis. The suggested strength training routine for the average person is 8-12 reps two times a week. You don’t need to go to a gym to do strength training and you don’t need fancy equipment. Strength training does not count towards your 150 minutes of recommended aerobic exercise, but don’t get so fixated on increasing activity that you forget to do strength exercise.

Walking is a very good exercise, especially if you are currently not very active and spend a lot of time sitting down at work or in the evenings. But don’t count steps for the sake of it, make the exercise you do count by walking briskly and mixing up your exercise by trying different types throughout the week.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.