How many miles is 10,000 steps? That’s a very good question, considering many of us often set this as our daily target to ensure we're getting enough movement into our routines. Because, between work and downtime, it can be very easy to find that you've been sedentary on your office chair or sofa for hours at a time.
However, you may be wondering where this number originates from, and if basing your activity levels on it really helps. We've called on the experts to explain the true story behind this huge figure, as well as what the research says about its impact on your health and whether it can help aid healthy, sustainable weight loss.
What's more, if you struggle to hit 10,000 steps every day, we've also rounded up the best tips for how you can easily add more walking into your schedule. All that's left to do is grab your best women’s walking shoes and best walking socks and give your legs a much-needed stretch...
How many miles is 10,000 steps a day and who came up with this walking target?
Maybe you're debating walking versus running, and want to know how far you're actually moving as you stroll about your daily business. Well, it's an easy one to get your head around—10,000 steps is the equivalent of walking around five miles.
But, how did that number even become a target to aim for? Well, it drastically pre-dates the arrival of the best fitness trackers. As Japan prepared to host the 1964 Olympics, people were becoming more aware how exercise impacts our overall health—particularly walking, which requires no equipment and is an activity that most people can do.
A year later in 1965, Dr Yoshiro Hatano invented the first pedometer—a device named ‘Manpo-kei’, which translates as, ‘10,000-step meter’. While you might imagine that this number was based on years of painstaking research, it was simply an arbitrary number that the developer believed to be representative of an active lifestyle. The concept then spread around the world.
How many calories will I burn walking 10,000?
This is influenced entirely on your body. Joanna Packard (opens in new tab), a personal trainer, explains that depending on your current weight and fitness level an hour of power walking could burn up 200 to 600 calories. However, you need to be working hard enough. She notes that the right pace will see you breathing noticeably more, but still be able to speak in full sentences—and you should cover around a mile in 20 minutes.
"It is estimated that the average person burns around 500 calories for every 10,000 steps, which represents roughly the level of calorie deficit we need to create each day to lose one pound of fat per week," says Emily Servante, certified personal trainer and global trainer education manager at Ultimate Performance (opens in new tab).
There's no doubt that walking for weight loss can help you slim down in a healthy, sustainable way. "Walking is the most underrated form of exercise," says Damien Coates, personal trainer and owner of The Lean Body Project (opens in new tab). "It contributes to your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the energy expended for everything we do that isn’t sleeping, eating or exercise—such as in the gym or playing sports—so by walking more steps each day than you currently do, this will help use up more energy throughout the day, resulting in burning body fat."
It's also one of the most enjoyable forms of fitness for weight loss. "Walking generally gets you out and about, being in the fresh air and outside can give your mood a boost," says Lucy Arnold, personal trainer and founder of Lucy Locket Loves (opens in new tab). "So while you’re out and about enjoying the scenery, you’re also burning calories, which can help fat loss as part of a calorie-controlled diet." Not sure where you're at on your weight loss journey? Getting your hands on one of the best body fat scales can give you a good guide.
Do we need to walk 10,000 steps per day?
Reaching this target will help you access the numerous benefits of walking. "As well as aiding weight loss, completing 10,000 steps a day is great for cardiovascular health—minimizing the risk of heart problems and stroke—and also helps reduce blood pressure, as well as improve mental health if you suffer from anxiety symptoms," says Martena David (opens in new tab), personal trainer at Gymbox (opens in new tab).
Research backs up the positives to your overall health. "The George Institute for Global Health (opens in new tab) did some analysis back in 2015 which suggested that upping your daily step count to 10,000 could have a huge impact," says Daniel Herman, personal trainer and founder of Bio-Synergy (opens in new tab). "The study was the first time researchers made the link between exercise—measured directly through pedometers—and how it reduced mortality." More specifically, it showed that a sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1,000 to 10,000 per day had a 46% lower mortality risk in the decade of follow up.
But what if you don't regularly reach this target? "You don’t necessarily have to hit this number daily providing you are still active and exercising for overall health and wellbeing," explains David. "All forms of movement count toward activity levels. That includes NEAT, but also Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)—the energy expended during exercise that we purposely choose to do, like the gym, classes and running."
Indeed, 10,000 steps is simply a baseline for comparison, with even doing 5,000 steps per day shown to have long-term health benefits. "A Harvard study found that women who averaged 4,400 daily steps had a 41% reduction in mortality," notes Herman. "Mortality rates progressively improved before leveling off at approximately 7,500 steps per day—so, if improving lifespan is your major concern, this research suggests you can reap benefits from this number."
Easy ways to up your step count
If you want to make walking workouts—10,000 steps or otherwise—part of your fitness routine, then here's how to add more movement into your day with some simple lifestyle tweaks.
- Every little helps—"You could use the stairs at work instead of the lift, and walk the dog a little further," suggests Arnold. "Get the family involved, set up challenges to see who can do the most steps. We all love a little competition!"
- Tweak your routine—"If back at the office, try getting off the bus or train one stop earlier—not only will this get in some extra steps, but will help clear your head before the work day starts," recommends Herman. "Instead of relying on the latest grocery delivery service, head back to your local convenience store. Need some extra workout motivation? Get walking buddy or join a walking club."
- Multi-task—"Instead of sitting around for half an hour watching your favorite show, why not walk in front of your TV?" suggests Arnold. Pacing around the living room might seem silly, but you'll soon see your step count shoot up.
- Be time-efficient—"Housework and chores are great for getting steps in, and being active at home can include gardening," advises David. "Make sure you take your lunch break and get at least 30 minutes of walking in, you’ll come back to your desk refreshed, clear-minded and re-energized."
- Gradually up the intensity—"I encourage my clients to start increasing their daily step counts based on their current activity levels," says Coates. "If they are very low in activity, perhaps walking 1,000 to 2,000 steps a day, then aiming for 5,000 steps a day is a good start. Likewise, if someone is already doing 10,000-plus steps a day, due to an active job or daily routine, then we would look to ensure they either maintain this or increase it by doing a dedicated walk."
Natalia Lubomirski is a health journalist with 14 years experience in the publishing industry. She has worked for a number of well-known magazines and websites including Marie Claire, marieclaire.co.uk, woman&home, Top Sante, Boots and The Telegraph.
She likes to think she practices what she preaches when it comes to health and fitness. She loves the great outdoors and you’ll often find her up a mountain somewhere. She’s climbed eight major mountain ranges across four continents and hit the summit of Half Dome (in Yosemite) during her honeymoon.
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