Is 10,000 REALLY a Magic Number When It Comes to Your Health?

Do you wear a fitness tracker? If so, do you love the little celebration it gives you at the end of the day when you’ve hit that magical target of 10,000 steps? And do you feel a little bummed if you don’t get to that goal? It’s understandable – we all want to feel like we’re doing the best we can for our health, and we’ve been told that walking at least 10,000 steps a day is one vital way of doing that. But have you ever stopped to think: why 10,000 steps? Is it really a magic number – and is reaching that target enough to keep you fighting fit?

The History of the Magic Number

So that magic number of 10,000 – it must be rooted in solid, scientific research, right? Well, you might be surprised to know that there is not really a whole lot of scientific evidence to back up any claims that 10,000 steps (or around 5 miles) is any better than any other amount of steps, or that it is superior to moving your body in other ways. In fact, the idea that we need to specifically take 10,000 steps a day is actually a decades-old marketing ploy!

woman holding a pedometer on her waist that says 10,000 steps today on it
A Japanese company marketed a pedometer, and the name translated to 10,000 steps meter, which is where it all began.

Way back in the 1960s, a Japanese company called Yamasa Clock wanted to capitalize on a fitness craze that took hold after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and began marketing a pedometer, which they called “Manpo-kei.” Why that name? Apparently, the Japanese characters for that name both look like a person walking AND just so happen to translate to the phrase “10,000 steps meter.” The pedometer took off, and that number somehow stuck in our collective consciousness as the fitness goal we all need to shoot for.


That’s not to say that there isn’t any evidence that taking 10,000 steps is beneficial to your health. We all know that moving more is always better, and some studies investigating this specific step target have shown it improves heart health, mental health, and even lowers diabetes risk – so maybe that’s why we haven’t forgotten about this random number. And, after all, walking around 5 miles a day should translate to walking for around 2 hours a day for the average person, which sounds like a pretty good amount of exercise. 

But do you really need to hit that specific target, or can you tell your FitBit to relax if you don’t hit it – and could that goal actually be giving you a false sense of security when it comes to your fitness level?

Is It Really Necessary to Hit 10,000?

Ok, so first the good news about your step count: the most recent research suggests that you don’t actually have to hit 10,000 steps to reap the health benefits of walking. And that is definitely good news for a lot of us: most recent studies show that people in the U.S. tend to only hit 5,000 steps a day at most, with many of us hovering in the 3,000-6,000 step range. And a famous 2005 study out of Belgium found that only 8% of people who were encouraged to reach 10,000 steps everyday for a year actually hit that target; not only that, but virtually none of the participants were hitting that mark four years after the study.

But there is some promising research into the benefits of any moderate amount of walking. For example, a 2019 study led by Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that, for older women, taking as few as 4,400 steps a day reduced the risk of premature death by about 40%, compared to women who completed only 2,700 or fewer steps a day. two sets of feet going up stairs with the words "step by step" on it

Interestingly enough, though, while the risks for early death continued to drop among women who walked more than 5,000 steps a day, the benefits seemed to max out at around 7,500 steps. In other words, older women who completed fewer than half of that magical 10,000 steps lived a lot longer than those who walked less, but those who got closer to that number didn’t really see a whole lot more in benefits.

And in another 2020 study of nearly 5,000 adults, the people who walked for about 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who walked only 4,000 steps a day. But those who hit their 10,000 steps, or more? The additional benefits were so statistically slight that it didn’t really make any difference. So, it seems that walking a lot is definitely beneficial, but there is no magic number that you have to feel bound by (sorry, fitness tracker!)

And Is Hitting a Step Count Enough to Keep You Healthy?

Nobody is denying that walking is good for you, so we’re not suggesting you stop! And if having an easy to remember goal each day for moving your body, like taking 10,000 steps, works for you, then go for it! After all, according to Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard paleoanthropologist who has studied the evolution of exercise, “We all have deep fundamental instincts to avoid unnecessary activity, so we need those nudges to help people get started.”

With that being said, focusing solely on your step count can become a little problematic. While the small, everyday things that you do to move your body (like walk to work, park further away, or take the stairs) do add up and make a difference, just getting in a certain number of steps won’t necessarily mean you’re as healthy as you can be, or that you’re going to meet any fitness or weight loss goals. Consider the following:

How much you sit the rest of the day matters – 

If you are very sedentary for the rest of your day (especially if you’re not moving much for over 13 hours of it), you probably won’t reap the benefits of even a full hour of exercise a day or a specific number of steps.

What other kind of exercise you get matters

woman sitting on a bench lifting weights with a man standing behind her for assistance.
The DHHS and the WHO recommends doing strength-training exercise (such as lifting weights, or doing exercises that use your own bodyweight) twice a week.

The Department of Health and Humans Services (DHHS), and the World Health Organization (WHO) both agree that you need at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running or dance cardio class) every week, plus they recommend doing strength-training exercise (such as lifting weights, or doing exercises that use your own bodyweight) twice a week. That’s in addition to moving around in the course of your daily life, meaning you should probably be tacking around 2,000-3,000 steps onto your step count everyday, if you’re set on counting steps.

In addition, if you’re looking to lose weight, or keep weight off, you might need to do more exercise – but with that being said, maintaining a healthy weight is ultimately more about what you put in your mouth than getting in a certain number of steps or workouts. 

And remember: there are all sorts of types of exercise that are great for you, but won’t increase your step count, like biking or swimming, so don’t forget to do what you enjoy – that’s what will keep you coming back for more, and keep you fit!

Your intensity level matters 

While it’s true that it’s very hard to counteract being extremely sedentary, research has shown that people who do 60-75 minutes per day of moderate intensity physical activity can eliminate the increased risk of death that comes with sitting for 8 or more hours a day (those who sit for that longer have a 59% higher chance of premature death compared with those who sit for just 4 hours a day). 

It’s important to note, however, that you need to be working out at at least a moderate level of intensity – so that means wandering through the grocery store or around the park might not be enough. After all, you could technically get 10,000 steps in a day without really elevating your heart rate or keeping it up for long; not only that, but the equivalent of that recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity is actually 300 minutes of brisk walking. 

According to professor Paul Gordon, an exercise physiologist and chair of Baylor University’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation, “I would encourage engaging in weekly activities that will increase heart rate for a continuous period of time.” 

The takeaway? Walking is great for your health – no one is encouraging anyone to do it less, and keeping track of your steps can be an excellent first step in achieving your health and fitness goals. In fact, if you’re the average American walking about 5,000 steps a day, you’re in a pretty good position to add in the equivalent of a few thousand extra steps by getting your recommended daily dose of exercise, thereby reducing your chances of all sorts of health risks. So don’t feel boxed in by a number on a fitness tracker, and remember to vary your types of exercise and eat well – but also don’t stop striding toward your fitness goals!

Hey Ladies! Get Strong With Strength Training!

It’s that time of year again, when many people’s thoughts turn from all the Christmas cookies they packed away in December to getting fit in January. That’s a great goal, but you need a way to stick with it. What do we suggest? Incorporating strength training into your life! It’s fun, has measurable results and gains that will keep you motivated, and has multiple health benefits. While strength training is perfect for almost anybody (and any body), right now we’re specifically talking to all you women out there. There’s long been a misconception that women should be doing tons of cardio or using very light weights to get fit. Those are great if that’s what you enjoy, but it might be time to ditch the treadmill and the tiny pink dumbbells and get strong!  

What Is Strength Training?black and white picture of the back of a woman with a weight bar on her shoulder

Strength training can actually be done in multiple ways. It doesn’t have to be hoisting a massive barbell above your head. You can personalize it to work for your body, your goals, and the equipment that you have or are willing to obtain. Strength training of any kind is pretty much defined by two things:

  • Movement of any weight (including your body weight!) – if you do any kind of exercise that pushes your muscles out of their comfort zone, then you’re forcing them to rebuild and get stronger. 
  • Progressive overload – if you exert slightly more effort each time you train, then your muscles will have to adapt and get stronger.

Basically, strength training starts when you move your body weight in a way that causes you to exert your muscles, or when you pick up a weight that is beyond what your body is normally used to. For example, you can start strength training right now by doing 10 squats and 10 pushups from your knees! Then when you master that, you would move on to doing squats holding dumbbells and pushups from your toes. 

The most important thing about strength training is pushing your muscles out of their comfort zone. This is so that they will break down and actually tear slightly as you work out. Sounds weird, but if you break down your muscles, over the next 24 – 48 hours they will actually begin to rebuild themselves – and this time they’ll be stronger than the day before! 

The Benefits of Strength Training

Why should you strength train? Well, you’ll get stronger! Who doesn’t want to be able to bring in all of their groceries in one trip, carry an air conditioner up the stairs without help, hoist a sleepy child out of the car with ease, push their car out of the snow without any problems, and so on and so on? But the benefits of strength training don’t end there. 

class with people doing puships with a woman smiling and happy
There are long-term benefits to strength training, like better mood, correct high blood pressure, and increase bone density.
  • Long-term benefits:
      • Prevents disease and degenerative conditions like heart disease, which many people are surprised to know is the number one killer of women in the United States. Strength training helps correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity – all factors for heart disease. 
      • Helps combat age-related muscle loss so you can stay independent longer.
      • Increases bone density, which is especially important for women as they age.
  • Benefits you’ll see right away:
    • Improved balance and coordination.
    • Improved mood, and helps combat stress and anxiety.
    • Weight loss. Study after study has found that strength training plus healthier eating habits is the perfect combination for weight management, even if you’re not doing cardio. And if you’re taking up exercise for aesthetic reasons (and it’s ok if that’s not your goal!), you can change the shape of your body with strength training. How many times have you heard you can’t spot reduce fat? Well, it’s true, but you can build up muscle in certain areas and change the shape of your body that way. 
    • Increased metabolism. Strength training speeds up your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), because it takes more calories to maintain muscles than it does to maintain fat. In addition, because your body needs to do so much work to recover after a strength-based workout, your metabolism can be boosted even more for up to 38 hours after you finish your workout. 
    • Measurable results! Part of the fun of strength training is seeing your progress, both in your physical appearance (if that’s your thing!) and in the amount you can lift or the number of reps you can do. 

At this point, you might be itching to get started! But first, let’s answer something once and for all. 

Do Women Need to Strength Train Differently?

caucasian woman looking at herself in the mirror while grabbing dumbbells

Strength training is one of the best things you can do for your health, but it’s estimated that only 20% of women do it! Maybe it’s because women are told that it’s not for their bodies, or they don’t need to do it, or they can’t lift the same way men can. But there’s actually a pretty easy answer to whether women need to approach strength training differently than men do. NO! In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine doesn’t differentiate between the sexes when it comes to their strength training recommendations. 

Let’s also address a question many women have about strength training: will it make me look “bulky.” The answer to that is also a firm “no,” unless you make a very, very specific effort to make yourself build the amount of muscle that a bodybuilder has. Believe us, that doesn’t happen by accident! So don’t worry about that, and get started!

How to Start

If you’re totally new to strength training, the best way to start is with your own body. That’s right, bodyweight exercises are great for you – you’re doing exactly what your body was designed to do, plus you’ll never be without your equipment! For example, try doing this “circuit” of 6 exercises, 3 times through:

caucasian woman doing a plank
Start slow with doing simple tasks such as a plank for 15 seconds.
  • 20 bodyweight squats
  • 10 push-ups – you can even progress with pushups as you get stronger. Start by doing them on your knees, then move to doing them from your toes, then try them with your legs elevated, and so on.
  • 10 walking lunges per leg
  • 15 seconds of plank
  • 30 jumping jacks

And there you have it! Your first strength-based workout. Once you get comfortable with bodyweight work, and are ready to move on, you should get yourself some dumbbells (or go to a gym and use theirs) and add in exercises like goblet squats (holding one heavy weight at your chest), weighted lunges, dumbbell rows, shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks. And when you get really strong? If you have access to one, try working with a barbell. This will allow you to pick up heavy weights and do movements that recruit every muscle in your body. Before you know it, you’ll be deadlifting and doing cleans and presses – and you’ll be super strong. 

Everybody has their own reasons for wanting to incorporate exercise into their lives. Maybe you want to feel great, look great, get strong – or all of the above! If so, strength training is the way to go. There’s absolutely no restrictions on who can do it (just ask your doctor first!), and no limits to how much progress you can make, no matter your gender, as long as you put some effort into it!