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Are you getting 10,000 steps a day? You may not have to!
Written by August 22, 2011

Gina Cortese-Shipley, MS

Associate Director of Education
The Cooper Institute

Are you getting 10,000 steps a day? You may not have to!

You probably have heard that you should strive to take 10,000 steps a day. Does it surprise you to know that this value originated as a marketing tool used to sell pedometers in Japan? Despite this, research has shown that achieving this number of steps does yield significant health benefits. For instance building up to 10,000 steps a day has been shown to lower body fat and improve insulin sensitivity.1 It has also been shown to lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.2

Using a pedometer to track steps often motivates individuals to be more active, making it a great tool to promote physical activity. But while they are effective at measuring the “quantity” of steps, they are not effective at measuring the “quality”; for example, the speed at which they were taken or if they were taken up an incline. A few of our blogs over the past month have highlighted some topics contained in the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) most recent position statement titled “Position Stand, Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise” which was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.3 Using steps per day to prescribe exercise is one of the topics addressed.

Recent evidence has shown that many individuals performing strenuous exercise—a level that meets the current physical activity recommendations—take less than 10,000 steps per day. In addition, research has shown that health benefits such as a decrease in blood pressure have resulted in increasing steps without reaching the 10,000 steps mark. This evidence suggests that fewer than 10,000 steps per day may be adequate to achieve recommended levels of physical activity and provide health benefits.

So can steps be used at all? Yes. Counting your steps can be motivating and can be a way for you to track changes in your activity level. For some fun ideas on how to use a pedometer to motivate physical activity check out this past blog, Step It Up. Just know that 10,000 steps isn’t necessarily the number you have to hit although research has shown that the more physical activity we engage in, the greater health benefits we achieve. There is some work going on to try to factor in that “quality” measure when it comes to step counting. One hundred steps per minute has been used as a very rough estimate of moderate intensity exercise. Some recent research has looked to improve upon this “generic” step rate by assigning a more specific step rate based on height4. Check out the table in Stride Rate: Are You Walking at Moderate Intensity? to find a step rate more specific to you. Because of the errors involved in step counting, however, it is ACSM’s position that steps per minute should be combined with the current recommendations for duration of exercise. As a reminder they are listed below. Do you count your steps? How many do you achieve in a day? We would love to hear from you on our Facebook page.

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for all healthy adults:
150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (brisk walking, water aerobics)
75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week (jogging, biking >10mph, digging)
Combination of moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity each week, such as: 75 minutes of moderate and 40 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity

1Dwyer, T., Ponsonby, A.L., Ukoumunne, O.C., Pezic,A., Venn, A., Dunstan, D., Barr,E., Blair, S., Cochrane, J., Zimmet, P., & Shaw, J. (2010) Association of change in daily step count over five years with insulin sensitivity and adiposity: population based cohort study. British Journal of Medicine. ;341:c7249, doi:10.1136/bmj.c7249.

2Iwane, M., Arita, M., Tomimoto, S., Satani, O., Matsumoto, M., Miyashita, K., & Nishio, I. (2000). Walking 10,000 steps/day or more reduces blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity in mild essential hypertension. Hypertens Res. Nov;23(6):573-80.

3American College of Sports Medicine. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 43(7), 1334-1359.

4Rowe D.A., Welk, G.J., Heil, D.P., et al. (2011). Stride rate recoomendations for moderate intensity walking. Medi Sci Sports Exerc. 43(2): 312-318. 

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