What You Need to Know About Those 10,000 Steps

April 4, 2023

What does walking 10,000 steps really mean?

Walking 10,000 steps equates to approximately four to five miles depending on stride length. Steps can range in intensity from light, moderate, or vigorous allowing for a range of step speed from a slow walk to running depending on the individual's physical condition.

What happens when you take 10,000 daily steps?

The benefit of engaging in a step program includes improved muscle tone, maintenance or weight loss, reduce body fat, and improve blood sugar control. Regular aerobic activity such as daily steps can help reduce your risk of common health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. 

Each mile you walk expends calories. Depending on how much you weigh will determine your caloric expenditure.  In general, each mile walked expends approximately 100 calories.  If you weigh more, you will expend more calories, the converse is true if you weigh less you expend fewer calories per mile. If your goal is to lose weight, you will need to expend 3500 calories more than you consume to lose one pound.  However, the healthiest way to maintain or lose weight is a combination of healthy eating and activity such as steps.

Are 10,000 steps a day important?

No, but activity is necessary. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise.  These recommendations can be achieved by brisk walking through steps but also by a variety of other aerobic activities that raise your heart rate. Additionally, ACSM recommends weekly strength training that should be performed on a minimum of two non-consecutive days. Depending on the physical condition of the individual too many steps could lead to overuse injuries such as muscle strains, tendinitis, and stress fractures. 

How does age affect the 10,000-step goal?

No matter what your age, a step program should be started slowly, incorporating rest days, while gradually increasing your daily steps so your body can adapt to the increased activity.  It is a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program including a step program.  Commonly as we age, we may develop issues such as knee or hip arthritis that make walking more difficult or limit the number of steps that one can or should do.  Other health issues such as obesity, cardiac, or pulmonary conditions may also affect the step goal. 

What is commonly overlooked when trying to reach this daily goal?

Adaptation to the increasing activity is often overlooked and can result in injuries. Remembering that our bodies need time to adapt to the exercise so that we don’t get sidelined by an injury.  But the most overlooked issue I see in my patients and many in the community is the lack of incorporating muscle strengthening.  Walking/running, and steps, are muscle endurance activities not strengthening. Although upper extremity strengthening is needed, the importance of a lower extremity strength program cannot be overemphasized. Lower extremity muscle-strengthening exercises contribute to better balance and may help prevent injury, protect the bones and joints, and prevent falls.