10,000 is the number that most people think of instantly when talking about the number of steps you should achieve each day. But have you ever stopped to think why such a convenient round number? Is 10,000 steps a day a good goal? In this blog we’ll take a quick look at the history, research and ways to achieve this daily step goal.
The history of 10,000 steps
With a little research, it seems more likely that the renowned 10,000 figure, which we all know as being the target figure for the number of steps we should take each day for good health, came from a marketing campaign rather than any scientific research. After all, 10,000 is a nice round number! The pedometer company started marketing their product named Manpo-kei shortly before the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Manpo-kei (phonetic) translates back to 10,000-steps-meter.
One of the best and most widely cited studies is one from Harvard Medical School, conducted by I-Min Lee and her team. Their study focused on older US women with the aim of determining whether increased number of steps each day was associated with lower mortality rates. They included 16,741 women with an average age of 72. The women were asked to wear a tracking device during all the hours they were awake, 7 days a week, for the 4 years between 2011 and 2015.
During the follow up of those that had died, and following their analysis, the team concluded that those who had completed an average of approx 4,400 steps per day were associated with significantly lower mortality rates than those that had only completed an average of approx 2,700. They also concluded that more steps each day decreased the mortality rates up to an average of 7,500 steps, at which point the benefits seemed to level off.
This would indicate that:
- Achieving a minimum of 4,400 steps each day will have the most long-term health benefits.
- Increasing this to an average of 7,500 steps each day will continue to increase the health benefit.
- Continuing to 10,000 steps each day has only the benefit of burning additional calories and contributing to fat loss.
You can read more detail about this study here.
How long does 10,000 steps take?
The exact amount of time 10,000 steps will take is going to vary a little from person to person. Leg length and therefore stride length is going to be one factor along with speed at which you take each step. On average, people complete around 2000 steps per mile and walk at about 3 miles per hour. This works out at 6,000 steps per hour of walking. Therefore, you will need to complete roughly 5 miles of walking / 1 hour and 40 minutes to get your 10,000 steps completed.
I like to think of this as 1,000 steps for every 10mins walk, as this makes it sound a lot more manageable.
To get a more personalised estimate of how long 10,000 steps will take you, use a step counter and a stopwatch to work out how long it takes you to complete 1,000 steps. Multiply this amount of time by 10 to work out the total amount of time walking required to complete all 10,000.
How many calories will I burn?
Once again, this is going to vary quite a bit depending on how much you weigh and other metabolic variants. There are plenty of calculators online that will help you work out an estimate that may be slightly closer to your individual amount. However, the range tends to vary between 300 and 500 calories.
Although this number sounds relatively small on its own, consistently achieving this day after day, will add up to big results over time. 300 calories every day will equal 109,500 calories in a year. I recently posted a figure on my Instagram that calculated the total amount of calories burned in a year by completing your 10,000 steps every day was equivalent to between 31 and 52 lbs of fat!
How to approach completing your 10,000 steps
Like with a lot of things within health and fitness, different people are going to have the best results with an approach that best suits their preferences, motivation levels and their own body. This will likely vary from one individual to the next.
However, regardless of your individual preferences, one thing that makes absolute sense is to try and fit in as many small stints of un-noticed & unscheduled steps in during the day as possible. What I mean by this is finding times to fit steps in where you can either multitask or it’s not a lot more effort to walk than it would be to use another form of transport. Any short trips to the shop, popping out to see a friend or dropping a letter in the post box, walk. Some examples of the multitasking approach would be; pacing whilst you’re on the phone, having a ‘walking meeting’ at work or popping the washing basket further away while you iron.
Now for the bulk of your steps.
Here are a couple of approaches which will lend themselves to different types of people:
If you are the sort of person who likes to get things over and done with, who enjoys being outside for longer periods of time anyway and likes getting away from everything for a while, I recommend heading out for one longer walk of at least an hour. Long enough for you to know that added to the rest of your steps in the day, you will easily achieve your 10,000. It’s also worth trying to get this done early on in the day, or at lunchtime, so that it doesn’t become a burden later in the day or cause you to stress about getting all your daily tasks done.
The second approach is for those who feel that 10,000 steps is quite a big task, will take up too much of their day or are too busy to spare a large chunk of time for a walk. If this sounds like you, I recommend that you break your walks into 2 or 3 smaller walks of 20-30 minutes. You can fit these in throughout the day so that they integrate with your life better. You could get up half hour earlier and get walk 1 in at this point. Walk 2 could be during your lunch-break, while your baby naps, or while lunch is in the oven. Then pop out as you get home from work or just before you have your evening meal for the last one.
Pre-plan some routes
Having a number of routes already planned ahead will make the process of leaving your house / work and getting all your steps done much easier. Having to sit and plan a route each time you head out may just increase to the ‘perceived effort’ factor to a point where you just don’t bother. To avoid this, find a couple of routes that you enjoy and that fit in with the way in which you have decided to split your steps up and stick to them.
Use the time
Don’t forget that these walks are a fantastic opportunity to have some time to yourself, which you can also put to good use.
I like to be quite efficient and use all of my time wisely. So, I personally listen to audiobooks from Audible or one of my favourite podcasts while I’m out. I just put my earphones in and feel like I’m constantly learning and keeping up to date, while exercising!
But even if you just use the time to organise your thoughts or listen to music while you destress then it’s time well spent.
In my opinion, even though the health benefits may not increase much past the 7,500 steps per day mark, I believe that 10,000 is still a good number to strive for. It feels like the top end of what is realistic and achievable in a day while still giving you a sense of achievement. Walking is a very accessible form of exercise and is low impact – meaning it’s going to cause less wear and tear on your joints. Plus, the additional 2,500 steps are going to burn extra calories that will help you create a deficit or make it easier to maintain, depending on your goals.
I’m certainly going to stick to the 10,000 goal!
Want some more ideas of increasing your steps? Check out my ’25 Ways to Increase Your Steps’ blog post.