Do You Really Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day?

Joanne Fagerstrom, Weavers Way Wellness Team

The association between walking 10,000 steps every day and good health can be traced back to the 1960s, when a Japanese company designed a pedometer to count specifically to 10,000 — a nice, round, and perhaps tantalizing number. Not long after the introduction of this device to the marketplace, scientific studies examining the effects of this precise activity on our health began to appear. What has been learned is that 10,000 daily steps are not, after all, the magic threshold that can assure better health.

Most adults spend 10 hours or more each day sitting, and research shows this level of inactivity cannot be counteracted with a workout at the end of the day. To maintain health, you need frequent movement during your waking hours. According to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, we need at least 10 minutes of movement for every hour of sitting. Study after study has shown that decreasing sedentary time by moving more is beneficial to our health, and the real value of step counters is that they motivate you to stay active. Many people respond very well to this type of goal setting.

Even minor changes to your daily routines and habits can add up. Most of us have heard these suggestions before: Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible; park farther away from your destination; go for a walk during your lunch break; and so on. These strategies work! Small, positive changes can amount to big differences in your overall health.

Nevertheless, there are a few considerations regarding step counting that we should always keep in mind.

Not Every Step Is Created Equal

You can stroll around your garden, wander in a forest, or run to catch a train. Of course, you can identify the differences between the physical requirements of these types of steps, but your step counter can’t. From a purely exercise-based perspective, taking 10,000 slow steps does not compare with the cardiovascular impact of moving at a faster pace. Therefore, a step counter can’t be relied upon to provide fully accurate information about the benefits of your daily walking.

Not Every Activity Is Counted as a “Step”

For some people, being held accountable by a device might encourage healthier lifestyle behaviors, but for others, it’s not a good match. Different people have different needs, and no single form of exercise is ideal for everyone. Riding a bicycle or going for a swim are activities that obviously don’t register on a step counter, but they are still very valuable forms of exercise.

Our Different Needs

Thank goodness for the amazing and fantastic differences between us! It’s absurd to think that being unable to take a prescribed number of daily steps suggests that good health is unattainable. Walking might not be an option for some folks because of pain or a physical limitation. All movement counts, and you begin where you begin.

The bottom line? Find ways to move more, in any way you can, all day long!

Joanne Fagerstrom, PT, CFP, is the owner of Mindful Physical Therapy LLC in Wyndmoor (