What’s the right number of steps to get each day to be healthy?

A lot of people have electronic step counters, or pedometers, these days; sometimes it’s a device like a FitBit, and sometimes an app in your cellphone. It’s a common question, though to figure out the right number of daily steps to target. Even more importantly, it can be confusing sometimes to sort out how that step target ties back to health goals.

The commonly accepted target is 10,000 steps per day, or about 5 miles for a typical person. Funny enough, that number isn’t all that scientific —it was used as a marketing campaign for a Japanese step counter in 1965! A lot of guidelines since then use 10,000 as a benchmark but becomes nuanced then how to best create a target and plan based on your personal health goals.

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study indicates walking less than 4,000 steps a day represents low activity, or a sedentary lifestyle. Those who took 8,000 steps a day had a 50% reduction in death from any cause; 12,000 stops or more a day was a 65% reduction in risk of death. Movement is medicine, literally helping avoid diseases and illnesses that stem from inactivity and an unhealthy lifestyle. The Mayo Clinic estimates the average American only takes 3-4,000 stops per day, or about 2 miles. That leaves a lot of room for improvement in increasing activity and staying healthy.

So, what’s the right step count for me? It depends on your goals. For anyone trying to lose weight, a target of 15,000 steps per day is a good start. For someone simply looking to stay busy and active to maintain your health, 8,000 is a good start. Less is worse, but more isn’t always better; it’s important to set targets that match your health goals. Regardless of your target, pedometers don’t work when they’re not used! It’s important to choose a device that’s convenient and consistent with your lifestyle, and then make sure you use it consistently throughout the day, every day. It’s important to use it every day, not just every once in a while, to ensure consistency. Use the data to help guide your plan; go for walks after dinner, take the stairs, or park a little farther from the door – a few hundred steps here or there add up over the course of the day. It’s also important to spread activity throughout the day, to ensure you’re active regularly each day. Ultimately, use your step count as a guidepost and a motivator to keep moving and stay healthy!


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