Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep your heart healthy?


In this article:

  • A marketing campaign, not science, is behind the 10,000 steps concept.

  • A recent study shows you can walk fewer steps and still have good results.

  • A Providence physician explains why walking is a good way to stay active.

Do you find yourself running in place at the end of the day to get the step count on your activity tracker up to 10,000? While it’s gratifying to hit your goal, you’ll be glad to know you may not need to do it. Of course, you can still strive towards your personal goals, but don’t stress if you don’t reach that magical number on your Fitbit every day.

There’s no science behind the 10,000 steps

There’s no scientific basis that 10,000 steps are the ultimate goal for maximum impact on your heart health. Results of a recent study on fitness show you can cut that number by more than half and still achieve positive health results. According to the study, the number stems from a Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer — not solid scientific evidence.

U.S. fitness guidelines recommend you get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week to gain maximum benefits. Walking is an excellent way to increase your activity level — even if it’s just doing a couple of extra laps around the yard when you take out the trash. It all counts.

How much walking should you do?

Small amounts of walking — as little as five or 10 minutes at a time — done regularly throughout your day provides positive results. Every step you take counts towards your goal, but some steps are more beneficial than others.

A leisurely stroll is fine, but a brisk walk is even better when it comes to improving your heart health. If you’re counting steps, 80 steps a minute is considered a slow pace; 100 steps a minute indicates a pace that’s brisk to moderate; and a fast pace is 120 steps a minute, according to Harvard Health.

Once you’re up and moving, how many steps do you really need? According to the study, the number is less than you may expect.

A deeper dive into the study

Researchers looked at a group of nearly 17,000 women with an average age of 72. The women all wore trackers to count their steps and the pace of their activity as they went about their usual day. Participants were divided into groups based on the average number of steps they reported: 2,700, 4,400, 5,900, and 8,500.  During the 4.3-year follow up period, here’s what researchers found:

  • The women with the least amount of activity averaged about 2,700 steps a day. They were found to have the highest risk of death.
  • Women who completed 4,400 steps a day were around 40 percent less likely to die during the follow up period than the women walking 2,700 steps or less a day.
  • Risk of dying for women in the 5,900-step group fell by 46 percent compared to the less active participants.
  • Women in the 8,500-step group experienced 58 percent lower risk of dying but that benefit seemed to taper off at an average 7,500 steps a day. There was no added longevity when extra additional steps were completed.
  • The intensity level and speed of the steps had no effect on the results. Slow, steady walking offered similar results to a more aggressive pace.

What do the results mean?

Despite the lower steps needed to gain results, researchers stress that the study’s results are not a justification to do less. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease and improves brain function as well as circulation, weight control, and blood pressure.

However, for women who struggle with adding exercise to their day, the study shows that their journey to improved health may take fewer steps to complete than they originally thought. And that’s good news for everyone.

Fitting in physical activity

It may feel like a challenge to add physical activity to your day. But beyond the benefits enumerated above, physical activity can help reduce anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, and help you sleep better.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer guidelines for how often you and your family should try to work physical activity into your day:

  • Keep children aged 3 to 5 years active all through the day, every day. They need it to grow and develop.
  • Children and teens from 6 to 17 years need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity daily.
  • As mentioned earlier, adults need 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking for health benefits.

How to go the distance with exercise around the home

  • Have a family playtime. Try games that get everyone up and moving, like Simon Says or backyard tag.
  • Make the house more livable and your body more durable by doing household chores like vacuuming or cleaning out a closet.
  • Get outside. Go for a walk or a bike ride or mow the grass. Just remember to wear a mask and stay at a safe distance if you’re around your neighbors. 
  • Don’t just sit there and binge! Turn TV time into an active time by lifting light weights or doing pushups and jumping jacks.  

Staying active helps keep your heart healthy and your emotions more stable. And that’s true whether you’re counting minutes or steps.


Find a doctor

Whether you’re just starting to add steps to your day or regularly maxing out your pedometer, the team of experts at Providence can help you reach your heart health goals safely. Visit our provider directory to find the right Providence physician for you. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.  

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Related resources

Which heart rate monitor is right for me?

Walking vs. exercise trends: They both win for women

Low-impact Exercises to Stay Fit as You Age

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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