You don't need to walk 10,000 steps per day—Here's what to do instead

We know you want to hit your Fitbit or Apple Watch goal, but you don't need to

Woman outside walking
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How many steps should you walk each day? We're told 10,000 is good for us, and our fitness trackers encourage it, but do we really need to reach that high? Not according to a new study, which found that a more reasonable 6,000 steps might be enough.

Whether you're using one of the best Fitbit trackers to keep tabs on your daily count or record your activity with one of the best fitness watches, the default step goal is set to 10,000 steps, but it's not clear whether the science backs this up.

But what we do know is you don't need to hit 10k each day to enjoy the benefits of moderate physical activity like walking. In fact, according to a new study published in The Lancet, 6,000 steps might be all you need.

How many steps should you take a day?

The researchers examined 15 studies looking at the link between step count and risk of death from between 1999 and 2018, with a combined total of 47,471 participants of varying ages.

After analyzing the data, they found that "taking more steps per day was associated with progressively lower mortality risk." However, the effect levels off at a certain number of daily steps.

For older adults, those over 60, the team noted that the ideal range was between 6,000 and 8,000 steps, while for the under 60s, it was between 8,000 and 10,000 steps.

Interestingly, they also found that "recent physical activity might be more important for associations with mortality," suggesting that it's never too late to benefit from daily movement.

This isn't the first time researchers have shown that fewer steps may be just as beneficial, with several studies concluding that you can stay fit and healthy between 5,000 and 7,000 steps each day.

As there's no definitive answer to how many steps you should take each day, the important thing is to make walking, running, or other physical activity a part of your daily routine.

Where did the 10,000-step goal come from?

Truthfully, we don't know for sure, although there are a few theories. The most popular explanation comes from a Japanese marketing campaign in the 1960s for a pedometer known as Manpo-Kei.

When Catrine Tudor-Locke, author of the book Manpo-Kei: The Art and Science of Step Counting, spoke to Live Science, she noted that the name translates to "10,000 steps meter" but that this target wasn't based on science.

The Manpo-Kei pedometer was one of the first consumer-friendly ways to track your steps and exploded in popularity, engraining the 10,000-step goal into popular culture. When Fitbit launched its first smart fitness trackers, it also adopted the target.

It's now standard across smartphones and other fitness tracking gadgets, too. It can be a motivational tool, but it's not always achievable, especially since 10,000 steps in miles equates to almost five miles each day.

Man walking and checking his step count

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is 10,000 steps a day good?

You might have mobility difficulties or find it hard to fit a longer walk around work, family, and social commitments. And researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that not hitting your goal can make you feel guilty and anxious.

To those of us who find it tough to hit that level consistently, it's practical to reduce the daily goal. That way, we avoid step guilt, find a more achievable target, and increase the chances that we'll hit our fitness goals.

Importantly, though, there's no evidence that 10,000 negatively impacts your health, just that the benefits start to plateau around 8,000 steps. Consequently, it's more about finding a target that works for your body and lifestyle.

You should aim to get a SMART goal, a specific, measurable, achievable, results-based, and time-bound target. This keeps your step challenge attainable, but there are plenty of other ways to set yourself up for exercise motivation, too.

Should you walk 10,000 steps a day for weight loss?

Walking is a great way to increase your physical activity and lose weight. Of course, there are other ways to get your step count up, which is why people often compare walking vs running for weight loss.

If you're after a low-impact way to drop pounds, then walking is a great activity you can easily incorporate into your daily by taking the stairs, walking to the store, or even taking a stroll to work.

Some research has even found that you can walk slower to burn more fat and lose weight sustainably. However you choose to get your steps in, it's crucial to make it a regular part of your routine.

So, while it's generally accepted that more physical activity will burn more calories and speed up your weight loss, you need to find a level that you can do regularly, and that makes you feel good, physically and mentally.

James Frew
James Frew

James is a London-based journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.