So cue the interest in the use of step count—particularly the goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day—to encourage more movement and less sitting. But do you really need to hit that mark daily? Or are more steps even better?
InsideTracker scientists evaluated results from 22 published papers that investigated the impact of step count on all-cause mortality (often considered a metric of longevity) and the incidence of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Here’s what they found.
Where did the 10,000 step goal come from?
The 10,000 daily step count is fairly controversial and has been criticized as an arbitrary number that may be overly challenging to attain for many (as 10,000 steps are equivalent to about five miles). While this understanding holds merit as 10,000 isn’t a magic number, it isn’t a completely unsubstantiated one either.
A 2011 literature review that looked at 837 scientific articles on steps and physical activity health outcomes concluded that “10,000 steps/day is a reasonable target for healthy adults, although there are notable ‘low active populations’”, indicating variability of realistic goals among those with lower physical activity baselines.  And one notable 2022 study conducted on the dose-response association between step count and certain cardiovascular disease risk markers in middle-aged adults indicated that the dose-response curve for most markers based on step count was “L-shaped”, meaning that risk reduction leveled off at roughly 10,000 steps per day. 
But more recently, a March 2023 study published in JAMA examined the association between step count and mortality of U.S. adults, and researchers found that people who took 8,000 or more steps a day just one or two days a week, saw a decrease of 14.9% in 10-year risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who did not take 8,000 or more steps any day of the week. That risk was even lower for people who took at least 10,000 steps one or two days a week. 
Additional studies also support the notion that taking 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day promotes longevity and lowers the risk of premature death. 
These data indicate that step count is a valid way to assess physical activity level and that people can experience health benefits from moving 8,000 to 10,000 steps once or twice a week compared to those who moved less.
Is 10,000 steps the best goal for optimal health?
Steps are an easily trackable indicator of your physical activity level. Although a higher step count tends to be better, you can still reap the benefits of more frequent physical activity regardless of your current activity level—even if you’re not hitting the typical 10,000-step target.
Simply put, some physical activity is better than none, and more is better than some.
It's more important to focus on increasing your activity and reducing sedentary time so that you can successfully build healthy habits that will last. In general, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that “To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.” 
Increasing your step count through walking, especially if it’s on the lower end to begin with, contributes to and can help you reach this established goal.
To help you monitor your step count progress, InsideTracker now tracks step count values within its platform. Like other physiomarkers (including resting heart rate and sleep duration) and blood biomarkers, step count also has optimal zones. The normal zone, or what’s a good target for overall health spans from 6,000-8,000 steps a day. For those truly looking to optimize their healthspan, the optimal zone is anything greater than 8,000 steps per day. And step count may be flagged as low or borderline low. The InsideTracker app pulls in and analyzes step count data from Garmin smartwatches, Fitbits, Apple Watches, Oura rings, and Apple Health.
Keep in mind though that honing in on step count may not help you meet all of your fitness goals. If you’re looking to build muscle, it’s essential to also add strength training sessions to your routine. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans also recommends muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week for all major muscle groups including the back, chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders, abdomen, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
However, walking can help build endurance capacity. Consider increasing the intensity, length, or speed of your walks.
Does increasing your step count aid in weight loss?
While regular physical activity can help people maintain a healthy weight and prevent excess weight gain, everyone’s bodies are different, and merely reaching a certain number of steps per day is not inherently an effective weight-loss strategy.
Tips for adding more steps into your day
Incorporate walking into your daily routine. Walking does count as physical activity. Try incorporating a walk around the block when you get home from work or check the mailbox. Or wind down after dinner with a stroll in the neighborhood.
Build up to more steps incrementally. Start small by walking for 5-10 additional minutes a day for one week, and when that becomes comfortable for you, bump up your time another 5-10 minutes. Setting an immediate goal of 10,000 may seem daunting if you’re currently only getting a couple of thousand steps a day, so make small increases until you reach your desired target.
Start with shorter workouts spread throughout the week. While not specific to step count, it's advised to spread the recommended 150 plus minutes of physical aerobic activity over the week—for example, 30-minute sessions for 5 days. Whether it’s a HIIT workout, boot camp, or boxing class, the movement you get from structured exercise can quickly bump up your daily steps.
Opt for the stairs when you can. If able, seek out the staircase at work or any appointments you may have for an easy way to boost your step count.
Break up your time sitting with multiple short walks. Take 10-15 minutes to stretch your legs and shift your focus away from that computer screen during the day.
Take the long way when time permits. Try parking your car at the back of the parking lot when you’re out for shopping or groceries.
While 10,000 steps is no magic number, it can be a reasonable target for most healthy adults most days and emphasizes the importance of regularly moving your body throughout the day. Achieving any level or frequency of additional steps or physical activity has been shown to have increased health benefits and reduction in mortality risk. So start small and incrementally build up your step count to recognize health benefits and proactively manage chronic disease risk.
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