How Many Steps Do You Actually Need?

10k steps a day or bust.

That is the motto.

At least, that is what we are all told.

10k a day is ingrained in most of our brains.

I mean heck, even FitBit devices have a feature that makes the band vibrate when you hit that magic number.

But the real question is this… is 10k a day really the magic number, or is it just a fugazi?!

Well, let’s look at what the science says.


STEPS AND WEIGHT LOSS

This is an interesting one.

One of the things we know about weight loss is that NEAT (or our non-exercise activity) is a major component of what determines whether people lose or gain weight over time.

Our daily “step” count falls into the NEAT category, so one would think that our step count would be a very important factor for weight management.

And… it turns out that our steps do appear to be associated with our body weight, but the precise number of those steps doesn’t really have a hard hold in the scientific literature. In fact, in many studies, the exact number of steps a person takes doesn’t appear to predict whether or not they lose weight.

BUT what we do see is that changes in physical activity do predict changes in body weight.

So if you go from 2,000 a day to 6,000 a day, then you are more likely to lose weight than if you go from steps a day to the magical number of 10,000 a day.

This helps explain why tracking your steps can help you lose weight. If it motivates a change in activity to increase your step count, you are more likely to lose weight.

However, don’t get super hung up on the 10k number.


STEPS AND OVERALL HEALTH


There are a lot of different ways to look at how your daily step count can improve your health.

As this is a quick hitting email and not a dissertation I am going to just hit you with it…

According to a study published in JAMA, your absolute number of steps can have an effect on your overall mortality risk.

Also, the more you walk, the less likely you are to die from heart disease or cancer.

The main conclusions from this research is that “the more you walk, the less you die”.

Ok, that was a bit glib, but that is the true gist of the findings.

For most people, our risk is minimized between the 6-8k steps per day, with no real additional benefit for risk reduction beyond 10k steps.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or should walk more than 10k a day…but after about 6-8k a day you have ticked the “I will not go quietly into the night” box for the day.

So here is the deal.

Track your steps. It can be an immensely helpful metric for many of us.

If you are trying to lose weight, just try and increase your steps above your current activity level.

Generally, more is better, but you don’t need to make crazy goals like 50k steps a day.

If you are trying to walk to reduce your health risks, aim for 6-8k a day and anything over that is gravy.

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