Haven’t hit your 10,000-step goal for the day? Then you better walk laps around the house before the clock strikes midnight. Only a few hundred more steps before you jump to the top of the step-count leaderboard? Even better.
Does that inner monologue sound familiar? For all of the focus many fitness-minded people put on that 10,000-step milestone – which comes pre-programmed into almost every fitness tracker on the market – the goal is arbitrary.
“There’s nothing magical about it other than it’s a nice, round number,” says James Borchers, MD, director of sports medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t even have a step recommendation. Instead, it recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise – along with two or more days of strength training – per week.
You can easily hit those goals without taking 10,000 steps per day. After all, activities like biking, swimming and weight lifting all require zero steps. On the flip side, you could take 10,000 steps and still not meet the daily exercise recommendations. In the eyes of your pedometer, a step is a step; it doesn’t matter if those steps came from running a marathon or walking from your couch to your bed.
Why Steps Still Matter
Don’t ditch your pedometer or step-count goal altogether. Research has shown that the more steps you take per day, the better your health tends to be.
Why? Mostly because we spend too much time each day sitting.
“No matter your exercise routine, it’s important not to discount the importance of getting up and moving more throughout the day,” Borchers says. “The goal shouldn’t be hitting one number in particular, but rather increasing your current step count, whatever it is.”
We should resist the urge to latch onto the big, round, trendy number and instead aim to lead an active life filled with a variety of activities. Set a personal goal and work toward it.
And remember that all steps are not created equal. If you're intent on taking 10,000 a day, make sure at least a few are the fast, heart-pumping kind that leave you sweaty and winded.