How Many Steps Do You Really Need in One Day?

It might be time to start rethinking that 10,000-a-day goal.

February 07, 2022

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Athletic senior man using smart watch


Athletic senior man using smart watch

Photo by: filadendron


Does the number 10,000 come to mind when you think about how many steps you should take every day? Many apps and health professionals recommend setting your daily goal to 10,000 steps, but research suggests that 10,000 steps may not be the sweet spot of daily movement. Here’s a look at the studies and the recommended amount of steps (and overall exercise) that you may now want to consider striving for in a day.

How Many Steps Do You Really Need?

Two large-scale studies examined the relationship between physical activity and longevity. The first was a 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which examined if the number of steps you take is associated with premature mortality in middle-aged Black and white men and women. The prospective cohort study followed 2,110 adults and followed up an average of almost 11 years later. Those taking at least 7,000 steps per day compared to folks taking fewer than 7,000 steps per day had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality. How “intense” the steps were made no difference in mortality risk.

The second study, published in 2021 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, examined the association between time spent participating in weekly sports activities and the risk of mortality. Close to 8,700 adults completed a questionnaire about participation in leisure sports activities including soccer, handball and jogging. The time spent playing these activities was recorded. The participants were followed up on about 25 years later. The results found an increased risk of mortality for those doing 0 hours of exercise per week, 0.1 to 2.5 hours of exercise per week and those doing more than 10 hours of exercise per week compared to those doing 2.6 to 4.5 hours of exercise per week. Researchers concluded that participation in 2.6 to 4.5 weekly hours of exercise had the lowest risk of mortality and that more exercise isn’t better for longevity.

It should be noted that the number of weekly hours to exercise found in the aforementioned study is slightly higher than the recommended amount of activity suggested by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combo of the two each week.

Bottom Line

Most Americans don’t get enough exercise, but doing too much isn’t advantageous either. Based on the research, 7,000 steps per day is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Balancing activities you enjoy within the time you have available is really what the goal should be.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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