How to Get More Benefits from 10,000 Steps per Day

By Lifestyle Medicine Staff

How to Get More Benefits from 10,000 Steps per Day

Many of you are familiar with the 10,000-steps-a-day walking trend, but you may not know where it originated. The idea of walking 10,000 steps per day did not come from scientific research; rather, it came from a marketing campaign for a pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Since the Japanese symbol for 10,000 looks somewhat similar to a person walking (see image below), the pedometer was named Manpo-kei or 10,000 steps meter, and the 10,000-step-a-day walking trend was born.

 

 

We know walking is good for us, but what do researchers have to say about this 10,000 number? Is this the right number of steps? What are the health benefits of reaching this number?

A 2023 research study showed 8,000 to be the sufficient number of steps to yield significant health benefits. In this study, participants who took 8,000 steps or more on one or two days during the week showed substantially lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risk.

Stanford Lifestyle Medicine Movement and Exercise pillar member Corey Rovzar, PhD, DPT, puts the 8 and 10 thousand numbers into perspective. “What is more important than hitting an exact number is that you’re moving more throughout the day,” says Dr. Rovzar. “If looking at a pedometer and trying to hit 8,000 steps will help you move more, then it’s a great tool, but rather than fixating on an exact step count, I recommend you think about your day and envision opportunities to move.”

Rather than walking all 8,000 steps in one go, which would take about 80 minutes at three miles per hour, Dr. Rovzar recommends walking the 8,000 steps throughout the day, such as in the morning and evening and after each meal. For example, you could split the 8,000 steps (80 minutes of walking) into four, 20-minute walks. If you stick to the 10,000-step goal (100 minutes of walking), that breaks down to five, 20-minute walks. This recommendation is good news for those who sit at a desk since taking several short walks during the workday is a perfect way to take a break. “It is important to note that all steps count! Even a few steps to the bathroom or to another room contributes to this overall count,” says Dr. Rovzar.

Ideas on How to Meet Your 10,000 Steps Goal:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk more during errands by parking your car farther away from your destination or getting off the bus or train a stop early.
  • Walk more during your work day by taking a “walking meeting” or walking while on the phone.
  • Walking after each meal can help with digestion, blood sugar management, and cardiovascular health.
  • Walk every morning, evening, and during your lunch break. Even 10 to 15 minutes of walking can add up to 1,000 steps.
  • Catch up with a friend by going on a walk instead of meeting for coffee.
  • Use a step tracker to help you stay motivated and track your progress.

How to Get More Out of Your 10,000 Steps

If you’re already walking 8 to 10 thousand steps daily, you may be ready to take your walking to the next level. If so, Dr. Rovzar recommends adding modifiers to your walking routine to help you meet additional fitness goals, such as improving balance or building muscle.

Here are a few of Dr. Rovzar’s recommendations for intensifying your daily stroll and gaining more health benefits:

1) Cardiovascular (Endurance) Modifier:

Interval walking

Interval walking involves alternating fast and slow walking cycles. Researchers recommend five intervals of fast and slow phases, each lasting roughly three minutes. The effort expended should be 40 percent of your maximum effort for the slow phase and 70 percent for the fast phase.

2) Muscular Strength Modifiers:

Walk up and down hills or stairs multiple times

If you are looking for strength benefits, hills may become your new best friend. Walking hills or stairs not only has excellent aerobic benefits but also serves as a great form of strength training.

Add ankle and wrist weights or wear a weighted backpack

Another strength training modification is adding weight to your walk, either with ankle or wrist weights or by rucking. The term rucking originated during boot camp training and involves using weighted vests or backpacks while hiking or walking.

3) Balance Modifiers:

Take side steps

March (i.e., lift your knees as you walk)

Walk backwards

It is essential to perform balancing exercises as we age. Implementing side steps, marching, or walking backward are great ways to train your body to handle non-forward-facing movements, enhance joint mobility, and improve flexibility. Balance training is also an effective way to strengthen different muscle groups. For example, side steps engage your abductors, which are hip muscles involved in getting out of your car and transitioning out of bed in the morning.

4) Cognition Modifier:

Dual-task training

Cognition may also be enhanced with walking practices, like dual-task training. This practice involves performing a mental task while walking, such as talking to someone while walking, keeping step time to a metronome, or counting backward from 100. Combining the mental task with the physical action of walking forces the walker to increase concentration, which sharpens the mind and improves balance and stability.

Whole Body Health Benefits

In addition to the physical benefits walking offers, Dr. Rovzar says that walking improves mental clarity and well-being. Taking a step away from work and going on an outdoor walk can help you overcome mental roadblocks. Studies have found mental health benefits from walking outside in nature, including decreased cortisol levels, diastolic and systolic blood pressure, and pulse rate. While using a treadmill may be a great way to multitask and get in extra movement, there are considerable mental health benefits from taking a break outside, getting fresh air, and stopping to smell roses and pet dogs on your walk.

“We often strive to maximize our time working, but in reality, you might not be saving yourself time by omitting the breaks,” says Dr. Rovzar. “I recommend getting out of your work environment and going for an outdoor walk every couple of hours during the workday, even if it’s just five-minutes of movement to get your blood flowing.”

Practice of the Month:

Walk 5 Days per Week for 30 minutes with a Modifier

The US guideline for moderate physical activity is 150 minutes per week (which breaks down to five 30-minute brisk walks with a modifier per week). To ensure you’re improving muscle strength, balance, endurance, and cognition every week, Dr. Rovzar recommends assigning different modifiers to different days.

Sample Walking Routine (30 minutes per walk):

Monday: Walking up and down hills on Mondays (endurance)

Tuesday: Rucking (strength)

Wednesday: Incorporating intervals of side-stepping, marching, and walking backward (balance)

Thursday: Interval walking (endurance)

Friday: Adding ankle and wrist weights (strength) while counting backward from 100 with each step (cognition)

 

If a 30-minute walk seems too daunting, Dr. Rovzar suggests starting with 10 minutes of walking and incrementally working your way up to 30 minutes daily. “Much of this comes down to goal setting,” she says. “If you set too lofty of a goal, it becomes unachievable, but if you break your goal down to an amount that seems feasible and perhaps try it just for a week, it becomes more likely you will remain consistent in attaining it.”