If you are one of the many people who have recently bought a fitness tracker, such as Fitbit, you may have wondered, “Why do they recommend setting my daily step goal for 10,000 steps?” In fact, even the American Heart Association recommends getting at least 10,000 steps/day in order to improve health and decrease risk of heart disease.
Although the health benefits of getting at least 10,000 steps/day are somewhat backed by science, the origins of the recommendation are little more than a lucky “guess”. Back in the 1960s, makers of a Japanese pedometer marketed their product by encouraging everyone to get at least 10,000 steps/day. Since then, there have been several studies which have examined the health benefits of using a pedometer and setting a daily step goal, such as 10,000 steps/day.
A systematic review of the use of pedometers to improve health found that wearing a pedometer (like those found in fitness trackers) is associated with increased physical activity. Pedometer users increase their physical activity by 27%, on average, when compared to non-pedometer users. The authors of the study note that “an important predictor of increased physical activity was having a step goal such as 10,000 steps per day”. The review also found that those who monitored their steps were also more likely to have a lower body mass index and lower systolic blood pressure.
On the other hand, the results of a meta-analysis which examined the effects of using a pedometer on weight loss, showed less inspiring results. The results of this review showed that pedometer users with a goal of around 10,000 steps/day lost an average of 2.3 lbs. more than non-pedometer users (over the span of about 16 weeks). This small, but statistically significant weight loss, was independent of dietary changes. One could theorize reaching a 10,000 steps/day goal in combination with dietary changes could elicit a greater amount of weight loss. But, more research is clearly needed in order to completely understand the health benefits (or lack thereof) of getting 10,000 steps/day.
What we know
We do know that most people do not achieve 10,000 steps/ day naturally. But, there’s good news for those interested in reaching the 10,000 steps/day goal. According to research, simply wearing a pedometer or a fitness tracker has been shown to help motivate people to increase their daily number of steps. If you want the most accurate step counter, try using a fitness tracker that goes on your shoe, instead of wrist or hip. Although shoe worn pedometers are typically the most accurate, fitness experts agree that when it comes to being more active, accuracy doesn’t matter as much, because the act of simply wearing a tracker will likely serve as a motivational tool. If you really want a wrist or hip warn tracker, go for it!
To date, there is a lack of clear research to support the health benefits of reaching exactly 10,000 steps/day or more. With more research, we may discover the “magic” number is actually lower, or higher…or maybe there is no “magic” number of daily steps associated with positive health benefits.
However, with 69% of American adults being overweight or obese, and average physical activity levels being lower than is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is probably safe to say that most Americans could benefit from increasing their physical activity (along with eating a healthier diet). Getting 10,000 steps/day is a good place to start, as this goal aligns with physical activity recommendations from the American Heart Association and the CDC.