How Many Pedometer Steps Per Day Are Enough?

Pedometer steps recommendations from Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke

Fitbit One - 10000 Steps
Fitbit One - 10000 Steps. Wendy Bumgardner ©

How many steps per day are enough? Is 10,000 steps per day the right number for everybody? Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke has been studying pedometer walking and shares the results of her research.

Is 10,000 Steps a Magic Number?

A goal of 10,000 steps per day was created as a promotion by a pedometer company in Japan and it became popular as it was adopted by walking clubs. But originally there was no body of research to back up that number.

Once it was well-established, the research found it was a good indicator you were getting somewhere near the recommended amount of physical activity during that day. Now many activity monitors and pedometer apps use it as a standard goal, as well as measuring whether the steps you take meet the standard of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.

Even a small increase in steps above being inactive can make a difference in health. Numbers as low as 6000 steps a day were shown to be correlated with a lower death rate in men. Experts view 10,000 steps a day as too few for children. But 10,000 steps can be too challenging for people who are aged, sedentary, or who have chronic diseases.

Activity Classification Based on Pedometer Steps for Healthy Adults

Dr. Tudor Locke's research established these categories:

1. Sedentary Lifestyle Index: Under 5000 steps per day is an indicator of being inactive and sitting too much, which raises health risks.

2. Low Active:  5,000-7,499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered low active. The average American walks 5900 to 6900 steps per day, so the majority are low active.

3. Somewhat Active: 7,500-9,999 steps/day likely includes some exercise or walking (and/or a job that requires more walking) and might be considered somewhat active.

4. Active: 10,000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as active. This makes it a good daily goal for healthy people who want a quick indicator they are getting in their daily exercise.

5. Highly Active: Individuals who take more than 12,500 steps/day are likely to be classified as highly active.

Increasing Your Steps to Add the Equivalent of 30 Minutes of Walking per Day

Instead of using a blanket 10,000 steps per day as a goal, some suggest your personal goal should be based on your usual baseline plus incremental steps. Adding 2000 to 4000 steps to your usual daily step count can be a good indicator you are getting the recommended amount of daily activity, or increasing activity to burn more calories.

Let's look at the example of Sara, who puts on a pedometer in the morning and wears it as she goes about her usual daily activities and only takes it off before bedtime. She does this for a few days and notes that she logs around 4000 steps per day. Her goal should be adding an equivalent of a half hour of walking to her day.

The number of steps you would log in 30 minutes is from 2000 to 4000, depending on whether you walk slower or faster. That is between one and two miles of walking.

What Should Your Step Count Goal Be?

To match physical activity recommendations for heart health, Dr. Catrine Tudor Locke gave this advice in a paper in 2010. A goal 10,000 steps per day is a good rule of thumb, with this more specific advice:

  • Increase your daily steps by 3000-4000 steps spent in 10-minute or longer bouts at moderate to vigorous intensity -- brisk walking to jogging. How fast is brisk walking?
  • Achieve a goal of 8900 - 9900 steps at least five days per week with at least 3000 steps of moderate to vigorous intensity (brisk walking to running) bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • Alternatively, achieve a goal of 9150 - 10,150 steps at least three days per week with at least 3250 steps  of vigorous intensity (jogging or running) bouts of 10 minutes or more.

Increasing Your Steps Per Day

Sources:

Tudor-Locke, Catrine, Bassett, David R Jr. "How Many Steps/Day Are Enough?: Preliminary Pedometer Indices for Public Health" Sports Medicine. 34(1):1-8, 2004.

Tudor-Locke, Catrine. "Steps to Better Cardiovascular Health: How Many Steps Does It Take to Achieve Good Health and How Confident Are We in This Number? " Curr Cardio Risk Rep (2010) 4:271–276 DOI 10.1007/s12170-010-0109-5

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