Photo by Arturo Castaneyra on Unsplash

Scientists Finally Did a Study to See If Taking 10,000 Steps a Day Actually Matters. Here’s What They Found

Jessica Stillman


Whether it was from a blog post or the instruction manual of your new wearable health device, you’ve probably heard along the way that taking 10,000 steps a day is good for you. If you’re keen to maximize your health, energy, and productivity, you probably took that advice.

It makes sense, after all. Exercise is clearly good for your physical and mental health. And 10,000 has a nice, scientific ring to it. But what that pamphlet or article touting 10,000 steps didn’t tell you is that, up to now at least, that number had absolutely no research behind it. It was actually dreamed up for a Japanese marketing campaign.

Getting up and moving more is a good idea. But science had no idea if there was a magic number of steps for health or what it might be. So a team out of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst set out to fix that, finally conducting a study to determine how many steps you should really aim for.

10,000 isn’t a magic number.

The research, which was recently published in JAMA Network Open, followed 2,110 middle-aged adults who had worn a step-counting fitness device beginning in 2005 or 2006 for 11 years. Were those who managed 10,000 steps a day less likely to meet an untimely end, or did some other number seem matter more?

The researchers determined, as expected, that getting more exercise is good. Six thousand steps beats 5,000 and 5,000 beats 4,000 for health outcomes. But they didn’t find anything particularly special about 10,000 steps (except going much beyond it brought no additional health benefits at all). Instead 7,000 steps seemed to be an important inflection point. Taking that many steps reduced participants’ chances of premature death by 50 to 70 percent.

“Seven thousand steps a day may be a great goal for many individuals who are currently not achieving this amount,” study leader Amanda Paluch commented.

Other reasons you might want to walk more

That doesn’t mean that there’s no reason you might want to walk more. The more you move, the more calories you burn — so if your goal is losing weight, longer walks are likely to be more effective. And on the cognitive side, a huge amount of research shows that walking can help improve your creativity, and may even help keep your brain young. Plus, it’s a big, beautiful world out there. On your feet is a great way to explore it.

But if your aim is simply to stay healthy and reduce your chances of an untimely end, this study shows there’s nothing magical about the number 10,000. If your fitness device says you managed less steps than that one day, don’t feel obligated to trudge around the block in the dark until you hit your target. When it comes to maintaining health, 7,000 steps will do just fine.

This post originally appeared on



Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.