The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (2023)

The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (1)

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When I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my left femur 15 years ago this summer, one of the first things I thought was, “I’ll never be able to walk the streets of Paris with my daughters.”

Well, I was in Paris last week, and for at least some of the time I was walking – or, more accurately, limping – along the streets with my girls. At least the garbage strike had lifted and those streets were relatively clean!

One morning we took a Hemingway Walking Tour, which took us through the streets of the Left Bank visiting sites associated with the Lost Generation – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce; Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Sylvia Beach, and others. Along the way, our guide read us this quote from Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir, A Movable Feast:

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.”

That quotation is one of the more famous descriptions of an idea that goes back to the ancient world (“It is solved by walking,” the 4th century philosopher Diogenes said) and continues until today (Aaron Sorkin added a scene into the new version of Camelot that opens on Broadway tonight in which Guinevere encourages King Arthur to walk around the castle, a move that produces the idea of the Round Table).

In effect, this reverence for ambulation has taken on near scriptural status in recent years: walking is good for the body! good for the mind! good for the soul! and good for the imagination! Like leeches and whisky in their time, walks have become the go-to tonic of modern times.

(Video) Why You Need To Walk 10,000 Steps A Day

Worried about finding the funds to pay your taxes? Take a walk!

But new research changes what we know about walks – and how we should approach them.

The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (2)

The idea that walking could have abundant side effects for mental health, creativity, and well-being goes back decades, with a series of tests on rodents. Studies showed that active animals showed greater neurological activity than sedentary ones. With the addition of a number of tests, largely of undergraduates, this new consensus about the Power of Walking began to take over popular media.

More recently, academics began pushing back – hard.

Just this February, Luis Ciria, of the University of Granada, and six colleagues, published a major study in Nature using a metareview of existing research claiming that most of the studies on the benefits of walking were overstated and based on flimsy data.

Despite most of the 24 reviewed meta-analyses reporting a positive overall effect, our assessment reveals evidence of low statistical power in the primary randomized controlled trials, selective inclusion of studies, publication bias and large variation in combinations of pre-processing and analytic decisions.

What’s more, those benefits reduced even further when other moderating factors were taken into consideration. “These findings suggest caution in claims and recommendations linking regular physical exercise to cognitive benefits in the healthy human population until more reliable causal evidence accumulates.”

As it happens, within days more reliable evidence appeared.

A massive new study was released two weeks ago by Boris Cheval from the University of Geneva, and eight colleagues, that used a new technique sampling the DNA of 350,000 people and provided the best evidence yet that “higher levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity lead to increased cognitive functioning.” As one of the of the lead researchers summarized the finding: “absolutely, exercise is one of the best things you can do” for your brain.

(Video) Walking 10,000 Steps A Day: Facts & Myths - DiTuro Productions, LLC

The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (3)

So what’s a layperson to think about this debate? Well, another new study, by New Zealand’s Travis Gibbons, and colleagues, released last year, provides what turns out to be the most salient answer: not all walks are equal.

Here, based on the most up-to-date findings, are three ways to think about the impact of walking on the mind:

1. Where You Walk Matters

Simply put, walking in nature is more impactful than walking on city streets. A study released in January confirmed that exercise increases cognitive function but that the environment in which that exercise is performed may be just as important as the exercise itself.

Katherine Boere of the University of Victoria in Canada, and two colleagues, asked subjects to perform cognitive tasks after taking both indoor and outdoor walks. Their study, also in Nature, called “Exercising is good for the brain but exercising outside is potentially better,” reports that all forms of exercise were effective, but outdoor exercise “had an additional impact on cognitive attentional scores,” “lower reaction times,” and “higher accuracy” on tests.

When it’s time to strap on your boots for walking, green exercise is better than gray.

The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (4)

2. How Fast You Walk Matters
(Video) How Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Will Transform Your Body

That 2022 study by Travis Gibbons on the connection between the type of exercise and the impact on brain function homed in on a subtle point: brisk exercise has greater benefits than moderate exercise. While Gibbons focused on cycling, the lessons can apply to walking, too.

The researchers compared results for 90 minutes of light cycling compared with six minutes of high-intensity intervals. During the easier tasks, positive outcomes rose slightly as early as 30 minutes; but during the high-intensity intervals, the benefits soared as early as six minutes. As Mr. Gibbons told the Washington Post last week: “Exercise is good for your brain and that exercising longer, or particularly, harder, may maximize the benefits.”

3. How Many Steps You Take Matters – But Not As Much As You Think

Finally, even within the cult of walking, there’s an even more cultish number: 10,000 steps. Like 10,000 hours, anothermyth, 10,000 steps is a lie that sounds good. (It turns out, the number came from a decades-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer.)

Amanda Paluch of the University of Massachusetts Amherst did a meta-analysis of 15 studies covering 50,000 participants and found that the popular number is not necessary for increased benefits. Instead, getting between 6,000and 8,000 daily steps is sufficient for most people.

“The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity,” Paluch said last year. “More steps per day are better for your health. And the benefit in terms of mortality risk levels off around 6,000 to 8,000 for older adults and 8,000 to 10,000 for younger adults.”

The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (5)

One more note before I send you out for a stroll. Another secret to successful walking is a really long walk, from hiking the Appalachian Trail to completing the Camino de Santiago.

Martin Mau of the University of Southern Denmark did one of the few studies of prolonged walking—from hikes to walkabouts to pilgrimages. In his study, which carries the charming title, “Becoming a person: How long-distance walking can lead to personal growth,” he writes that in such journeys, “the destination is so far away, that the walker is not preoccupied with ‘getting there,’ instead, the walker has free time that is not allocated for some specific purpose.”

Freed from focusing on reaching a certain milestone, we are liberated instead to focus on the world around us. By letting our bodies wander, we let our minds wander. It’s precisely that act of wandering that may be the most important secret to being more creative. For as Hemingway himself once said, the goal in being a better person is using the know-how we gain as adult “to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.”

(Video) What Will Happen to Your Body If You Walk Every Day

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The Myth of 10,000 Steps: Why Walks Are Good for You – But Not All Walks (6)

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(Video) Do you Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?


Is it healthy to walk more than 10000 steps? ›

Turns out: Yes, it is, according to new research. A study in JAMA Neurology found that walking about 10,000 steps a day was linked to less cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke and heart failure), 13 types of cancer, and dementia.

What is more important than walking 10,000 steps? ›

Walking 10,000 steps a day has long been associated with a reduced risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death. But experts have now found that a faster pace, like a power walk, shows benefits beyond how many steps are recorded.

Are you sedentary if you walk 10000 steps? ›

Sedentary is less than 5,000 steps per day. Low active is 5,000 to 7,499 steps per day. Somewhat active is 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day. Active is more than 10,000 steps per day.

What does research say about walking 10,000 steps a day? ›

Walking around 10,000 steps a day appears to be linked to less dementia and less cardiovascular disease overall, with less heart disease, less heart failure and fewer strokes. It may significantly reduce your risk of 13 types of cancer while also lowering your risk of dementia by 50 percent.

What is a good distance to walk everyday? ›

Walking is a form of low impact, moderate intensity exercise that has a range of health benefits and few risks. As a result, the CDC recommend that most adults aim for 10,000 steps per day . For most people, this is the equivalent of about 8 kilometers, or 5 miles.

How many steps a day to lose 2 pounds a week? ›

For healthy, sustainable results, you should aim to shed no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. Walking 10,000 steps per day for a week burns roughly enough calories to melt a pound of fat.

How many steps is a 30-minute walk? ›

A new study by the London School of Economics and Political Science has found that a brisk 30-minute walk (roughly 3000 steps) is more effective at weight control than running, swimming or going to the gym.

How many steps equal a mile? ›

2,000 steps

An average person has a stride length of approximately 2.1 to 2.5 feet. That means that it takes over 2,000 steps to walk one mile and 10,000 steps would be almost 5 miles. A sedentary person may only average 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day.

What exercise is 10000 steps equal to? ›

Experts say, walking 10,000 steps is a form of low-to-moderate intensity cardio exercise. Thus, it can be equivalent to other low-moderate intensity cardio exercises like cycling, elliptical cross trainer, swimming and aquatic exercises.

What happens to your legs when you don't walk enough? ›

Muscle deterioration and pain

As with all of our muscles, if you don't use them, you lose muscle capacity. The muscles of your feet, ankles and lower legs become weaker with inactivity, causing muscular tension, stiffness and aches.

Do steps around the house count? ›

Does walking around your house count as exercise? Any movement you do can help you become more physically active. When answering this question, you need to ask yourself: What is my goal? If you simply want to move around more, then yes: Walking around your house is exercise.

How many steps do Japanese walk? ›

Researchers compared the average step counts from the U.S. with other countries: United States: 5,117 steps (about 2.5 miles or about 4 kilometers each day) Japan: 7,168 steps (about 3.5 miles or 6 kilometers each day) Switzerland: 9,650 steps (about 4.8 miles or 8 kilometers each day)

What is the Japanese 10,000 steps? ›

The idea of walking 10,000 steps a day was invented as part of the marketing campaign for an early pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The Japanese character for 10,000 looks rather like a person walking so the device was called the Manpo-kei or 10,000 steps meter.

How long do you have to walk 10000 steps to see results? ›

It's suggested the average person walks about 100 steps per minute – which would mean it would take a little under 30 minutes for the average person to walk a mile. So in order for someone to reach the 10,000 step goal, they would need to walk between four and five miles a day (around two hours of activity).

Is 10,000 steps really necessary? ›

Fitness tracking devices often advise that we take 10,000 steps a day—about five miles—but taking far fewer can still have health benefits, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's I-Min Lee, an expert on step counts and health.

How far should a 65 year old walk every day? ›

Adults aged 65 and older need: At least 150 minutes a week (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking. Or they need 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as hiking, jogging, or running.

Is it better to walk faster or longer? ›

Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.

How many miles should I walk a day to lose 10 pounds? ›

There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound. "This means to lose 1 pound, you'll need to walk roughly 35 miles or 70,000 steps. Over the course of a week, this means targeting 10,000 steps a day," says Davis. At this rate, you could lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.

How much should I walk to lose 3 pounds a week? ›

By all means, do more if you can. An hour in the gym (400 to 500 calories) plus 6,000 steps of being active throughout the day (300 calories) plus following the Pritikin Eating Plan (500-calorie deficit) nets you about a three-pound weight loss every week.

How many steps a day should I walk to lose 15 pounds? ›

If you're trying to lose weight or lose body fat, aim for 10,000 to 12,500+ steps a day. Coupled with an appropriate nutrient-dense diet, you'll be set for success.

How many calories do I eat a day to lose 2lbs a week? ›

For example, to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week — a rate that experts consider safe — your food consumption should provide 500 to 1,000 calories less than your total weight-maintenance calories. If you need 2,325 calories a day to maintain your current weight, reduce your daily calories to between 1,325 and 1,825.

Are 3 10 minute walks as good as 1 30-minute walk? ›

According to researchers from the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, three 10-minute workouts may be even more beneficial for your heart than one 30-minute session. That's good news for your health and your schedule.

How many steps are in 60 minutes of walking? ›

Intensity-related translations based on taking 120 steps/minute at 3 miles/hour correspond to 3,600 steps in 30 minutes, or 7,200 steps in 60 minutes.

Is walking 30000 steps too much? ›

For more health benefits, the CDC recommends upping that goal to 300 minutes. This equals about 30,000 steps per week (just under 5,000 steps per day). Remember, this refers to walking at a fast pace, one that leaves you at least slightly out of breath.

Is 30000 Steps A day good? ›

For more health benefits, the CDC recommends upping that goal to 300 minutes. This equals about 30,000 steps per week (just under 5,000 steps per day). Remember, this refers to walking at a fast pace, one that leaves you at least slightly out of breath.

Is 20,000 steps a day good? ›

While one study found that walking just 4,400 steps per day reduces the risk of death by 41% compared to walking fewer than 2,700 steps per day, the mortality risk decreases as you walk. Therefore, walking 20000 steps per day is a fantastic workout.

Is 20,000 steps a day considered active? ›

Is 20,000 steps a day considered active? If you were to walk 20,000 steps a day, you are going to find that this is going to be considered an active lifestyle. In fact, it is often considered to be a very active lifestyle since a lot of people struggle to get to 10,000 steps a day.

What happens when you walk 20,000 steps a day? ›

Walking is a physical exercise and also burns calories. If you want to try the 20000 steps a day weight loss, you may expect great results: reduced stomach fat, improved sleep, boosted immune response etc.

Is 5000 Steps A Day better than nothing? ›

Most of the health messages we hear are that you should aim to walk 10000 steps per day, which is roughly equal to five miles. The good news is that even if you only walk 5000 steps a day, you are still significantly reducing your risk of premature death and cardiovascular disease.

Has anyone lost weight walking 10,000 steps a day? ›

To lose weight by walking, you have to burn off an extra 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. Most people burn around 300 to 400 calories by walking 10,000 steps.

How many steps does it take to lose 1 pound? ›

"Generally, 1 mile (or roughly 2,000 steps) walked equates to [burning] 80 to 100 calories." There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound. "This means to lose 1 pound, you'll need to walk roughly 35 miles or 70,000 steps. Over the course of a week, this means targeting 10,000 steps a day," says Davis.

Why am I not losing weight by walking? ›

One of the main reasons why burning calories through exercise may still not result in weight loss is due to overexertion, or inflammation of your body. If you exercise too hard on a daily basis, there is an excess of inflammation in your body. All the added up inflammation makes you gain more weight than lose.

Is 2 hours of walking too much? ›

There is no set number of miles that is considered too much (or too little) for all walkers. However, it is wise to start with shorter walks and gradually increase mileage as fitness goals are met.


1. Does 10000 Steps Matter For Exercise Goals? | Dr Shriram Nene
(Dr Nene)
2. The 10,000 steps myth | How much do you need to walk to lose weight?
(Diabetes Diet Guy)
3. What Happens to Your Body When You Walk 10,000 Steps a Day.
4. What Happens When You Walk 10000 Steps Daily? | Why 10000 Steps Per Day? | MFine
(MFine Care)
5. STUDY: Walking 10,000 Steps Daily for Fat Loss, Depression, Sleep Apnea, Diabetes & More
(High Intensity Health)
6. VERIFY: Do I need to walk 10,000 steps every day?
(KHOU 11)


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