Leah & Kuma

The author and her best four-legged friend Kuma get their 10,000 daily steps in. 

Have you heard the recommendation that we need 10,000 steps a day for good health? Guess what? Just like the eight cups of water a day recommendation, it was made up! In fact, not only was it made up, but it was also a marketing ploy from a 1965 Japanese pedometer. The company name was Manpo-Kei which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” Since it was the first of its kind, the number stuck. 

Lucky for us, there are researchers out there who like to look at things like longevity and step correlation to see what the data actually says. A 2019 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association looked to see if 10,000 steps really is the magic number. It was conducted over four years with 16,741 women aged 62 to 101, with an average age of 72. Here are the main points: 

• Sedentary women averaged 2,700 steps a day

• Mortality rate significantly decreased for women who averaged 4,400 steps per day

• Mortality rates continued to decrease the more steps women averaged per day

• Mortality rates leveled off for women who had steps averaging over 7,500 per day.


While this study was particular to older women and mortality and did not look at steps and weight loss, I stillrecommend most of my clients get at least 10,000 steps a day. You may be thinking, “Leah, you just said the data states anything over 7,500 doesn’t decrease mortality rates.” Great job paying attention! 

I still recommend 10,000 steps though, because getting that many steps means you are more active than not. Being more active will not only keep you healthier, but it will also help you get closer to your goals, which most often involves weight loss or getting “leaner.” Moving more, even at a slow pace, will burn more calories than just sitting on the couch. 

If you don’t have a fitness tracker, 10,000 steps can be hard to hit every day without focusing at least a bit of time and energy on it. To put it in simpler terms, 10,000 steps is the equivalent of walking about five miles.

Fitness trackersare getting cheaper and better each year and are a helpful tool in the road to fitness. If you’re not ready to commit to a smart tracker like Fitbit, a simple $15 pedometer from Amazon will do the trick just fine. If you have a phone and carry it around often, there are apps that can give you a good estimate of where your steps are. 

I have owned four Fitbits, an Apple watch and I now have an Oura ring as well. Which tracker is best depends on which features you’re looking to have. I think the Apple watch is much more of a watch or mini phone than a fitness tracker. The Fitbit is easy and can go high or low tech, although the software algorithms are not as accurate as a Garmin, Oura or Whoop. There are many more styles and types of trackers out there, of course.

The last thing to consider when you start upping your walking is good old recovery. “From walking?!” you say. Yup. Even walking might be too much for some people. If you’re going from 1,000 steps a day to 10,000, it will be extremely new and taxing for your body. So, start small when upping your steps and shoot for an increase of about 1,000 steps per week. That means some days you may do 4,000 or 8,000 and some days you may still do 1,000.

Overall, just keep walking to get a boost of health! Remember though, too much of a good thing can be bad. If you are walking more than 10-12,000 steps a day, plus a workout, that might be too much. Happy walking!




Leah Harding is a nutrition coach and mobile personal trainer. She specializes in helping people see food as an ally to reach their goals, both in and out of the gym. She previously worked out of Rincon Fitness and owned CrossFit Carpinteria/Foxwing Fitness. Contact her at leah@foxwingfitness.com with questions or with ideas for future wellness articles.

(2) comments


Fair points @moonshot, but you're assuming that all steps would be exercise steps, which wasn't my point. My point was to move more and if you focus on getting steps, you'll do just that. A sedentary person who works a desk job can easily get 2500-3500 by just doing normal daily activity. That person would start with a goal of around 5000, not 10,000. If someone was shooting for 10,000 it would be assumed that they are already moving and being more active than a sedentary person and have incorporated in some time to get that daily movement. At that level, you wouldn't need to spend so much time getting steps in.


Noble goal but lets put that in context. 10k-12k in steps is about 4-5 miles. The average walking pace on level ground if you decent is 3mph. So you are looking at about 1.5-2 hours of walking a day to do this. Combine a full time job and other duties and its a time management problem. Food for thought.

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