Do You Need 10,000 Steps a Day?


Everyone likes a number to work towards to help track their health and wellness goals—an apple a day, eight glasses of water, 2,000 calories, eight hours of sleep. And of course, you have your Fitbit or your wearable device to track that magic number of 10,000 steps a day. But do you need that many steps?

A recent study by a Harvard University professor tested the 10,000 step rule. The study observed steps and mortality rates of more than 16,000 elderly American women. The conclusion was that at 2,000 steps a day, the women saw positive health outcomes. The next measurement, 4,400 steps a day, showed a significant drop in the mortality rate. The mortality rate continued to drop until they reached 7,500 steps a day. Then, the mortality rates stayed almost the same.

Dr. Jeffrey Reichard, Cardiologist for the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute says, “The good news is that by doing just a little walking every day there is a significant health benefit. It is all about moving—get up and get moving.”

Improving Your Long-term Health

The average person gets about 2,500 steps a day through basic daily functions of walking around the house, cooking dinner, and getting up to go to the bathroom.

“Most people just need to incorporate about 2,000 steps to their daily routine to see health benefits,” says Dr. Reichard.”

In addition to the recommended 2,000 steps a day for a healthy heart Dr. Reichard also recommends:

  • Follow a healthy diet. Start reading nutrition labels, add fruits and vegetables to your diet, pick low-sugar and low-sodium healthy foods and pay attention to portion size.
  • Start moving more. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week, but if that feels daunting, just start with finding an activity you like and doing that each day.
  • Pay attention to other areas of your life that affect health including, sleep, stress management, hydration, and socialization.

Motivation to Maintain a Healthy Weight

While adding steps to your day can help improve your health, it can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Rachel Wagner, MS, LD, a Licensed Dietitian at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center, says “I like to think of the 2,000 step number as a goal. By working to achieve a specific goal you are more likely to get moving.”

By reaching the goal of 2,000 steps a day you also burn anywhere from 100 to 200 calories a day. Rachel offers some advice on incorporating motivation and movement into each day.

  • Set a realistic goal for movement for the day. 2,000 steps may be extremely hard for some people and very easy for other people. Set a goal that will help you stay motivated and add additional steps to your average day.
  • Don’t walk away from your diet. Your diet is still an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. So while you add more movement to your day, watch the types of foods you eat.
  • Keep a food and movement journal. By writing down all of your activity and food you consume, you can hold yourself accountable. You will also be able to see why you are successful (or not) at losing or maintaining a healthy weight.

Don’t Be Fooled by Marketing Tricks

The Harvard study also uncovered that 10,000 steps began as a marketing ploy. Researchers found the 10,000 step reference went back decades to a Japanese pedometer advertisement. The 10,000 number was chosen because the characters in Japanese look like a man walking, and it is a lucky number that equals about five miles.

Dr. Reichard says, “If latching on to a marketing trick like 10,000 steps helps you move more, then use that motivation. Find something that keeps you moving.”

For tips on moving more and how to live a heart-healthy life, talk to your primary care physician or a cardiologist at St. Elizabeth Heart and Vascular Institute. If you need help finding a primary care physician, please call (800) 737-7900.

Interested in keeping your weight-loss goals on track? Talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center by calling (859) 212-4625. You can also watch our free medical weight management seminar online.