Does 10,000 Steps Per Day Really Matter?

10,000 Steps Per Day

So, you’ve bought your shiny new fitness tracker and you’re ready to crush that weight-loss goal. Your fitness tracker is already set to 10,000 steps, so that’s your goal. 10,000 steps seem like a reasonable number, and every fitness magazine touts it as the magic number to lose weight, so it must be correct, right?


Well, that depends. It turns out that the “10,000 steps” goal is pretty arbitrary and there doesn’t seem to be much scientific evidence behind it. So where did that number come from? One explanation is that pedometers were originally marketed in Japan in the 1960s as “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” And it seems to have stuck around ever since.


Current Guidelines


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services does not have a steps-per-day guideline. Instead, it recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Examples of these types of activities include cycling, jogging, hiking, and swimming. Two days of strength-based training should also be included in your weekly routine.



Evidence points to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as an effective way to lose fat with lower training volume/time. Protocols vary but generally involve doing a high-intensity exercise that will significantly increase your heart rate (like sprints or burpees) followed by low-intensity exercise or rest. For example, one study showed that women who did 20-minute HIIT sessions lost significantly more fat than women who cycled at a steady pace for 40 minutes over a 15-week period. 


Quality over Quantity


You can easily meet these recommendations without taking 10,000 steps. One randomized controlled study showed that a group of women who engaged in an exercise program designed to meet the current recommendations only took about 7,000 steps. If you have some time to dedicate to exercise, it would be better spent doing HIIT or strength training instead of walking or even running. Your step-counter can’t tell the difference between walking leisurely laps around your living room and running an 8-minute mile; a step is a step. Recent studies have shown that healthy adults have an enormous range of daily steps, anywhere from 4,000 to 18,000 steps per day.



If it’s weight loss you’re after, you need to look beyond steps and consider the type and quality of your exercise. Many studies have shown the benefits of incorporating strength and higher intensity intervals into your exercise routine. One Harvard School of Public Health study showed that, out of 10,500 adults, those who strength trained for 20 minutes each day gained less visceral fat. Furthermore, The American College of Sports Medicine states that step counts are not accurate measures of exercise quality and shouldn’t be the only tool in measuring physical activity.


Don’t Ditch the Step Goal Altogether


Moving is better than sitting. And a lot of Americans spend a lot of time sitting in front of a screen. Even people that meet the exercise recommendations typically sit too much during the day. Research shows that the more steps you take, the better your health tends to be. But instead of focusing on a number, try to gradually increase your current step count on top of meeting the overall exercise recommendations. Having a goal in mind can be motivating, though, and may lead to increased weight loss. Research shows that pedometer users with a step goal vs. those without a goal significantly increased their physical activity levels. Pedometer users also had a significant reduction in their body mass index (BMI), but this weight loss was not related to solely an increase in steps.


The Takeaway


Take the golden “10,000 steps” rule with a grain of salt. Increasing movement throughout your day, including a number of steps, is always a good idea and contributes to overall health and wellness, which could include improved weight loss. Try not to focus only on the number of steps, but ensure you are meeting the exercise recommendations, which include moderate and vigorous activity. Incorporate strength and HIIT training, as well as a healthy diet, to increase weight-loss success.

For a fitness assessment with one of our professionals, contact Lisanne Wellness Center today. 


1 Bravata, Dena M., Crystal Smith-Spangler, Vandana Sundaram, Allison L. Gienger, Nancy Lin, Robyn Lewis, Christopher D. Stave, Ingram Olkin, and John R. Sirard. “Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health.” Jama 298.19 (2007): 2296. Web. 8 May. 2017.


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