Do We Really Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day for Our Health?

Another, more expansive study last year of almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities likewise found that 10,000 steps a day are not a requirement for longevity. In that study, people who walked for about 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who accumulated 4,000 steps a day. The statistical benefits of additional steps were slight, meaning it did not hurt people to amass more daily steps, up to and beyond the 10,000-steps mark. But the extra steps did not provide much additional protection against dying young, either.

Realistically, few of us reach that 10,000-step goal, anyway. According to recent estimates, most adults in America, Canada and other Western nations average fewer than 5,000 steps a day.

And if we do reach the 10,000-step target, our feat tends to be ephemeral. A famous study in Ghent, Belgium, provided local citizens in 2005 with pedometers and encouraged them to walk for at least 10,000 steps a day for a year. Of the 440 men and women who completed the study, about 8 percent reached the 10,000 step daily goal by the end. But in a follow-up study four years later, almost no one was still striding that much. Most had slipped back to their baseline, taking about the same number of steps now as at the study’s start.

The good news is that upping our current step counts by even a few thousand additional strides most days could be a reasonable, sufficient — and achievable — goal, Dr. Lee said. The formal physical activity guidelines issued by the United States and other governments use time, not steps, as a recommendation, and suggest we exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, or a half-hour most days, in addition to any moving around we do as part of our normal, daily lives. Translated into step counts, Dr. Lee said, that total would work out to a little more than 16,000 steps a week of exercise for most people, or about 2,000 to 3,000 steps most days. (Two thousand steps equal approximately a mile.) If then, like many people, we currently take about 5,000 steps a day during the course of everyday activities like shopping and housework, adding the extra 2,000 to 3,000 steps would take us to a total of between 7,000 and 8,000 steps most days, which, Dr. Lee said, seems to be the step-count sweet spot.