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If you own a wearable fitness tracker, then you probably know that most of them come pre-loaded with a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. But why 10,000? Is there something about that particular number of steps that makes it the ideal daily fitness goal?

Short answer: no.

Photo: @fitbit

According to Harvard Medical School professor I-Min Lee, the average American only gets around 4,000 steps per day. So, where did that 10,000 number come from? According to Lee, it started as a marketing tool for a Japanese company looking to sell pedometers, and it just sort of... stuck.

So, how the heck are you supposed to know how many steps you should be aiming for each day? That will depend...

...If You're New to Exercise

The Mayo Clinic found that the average American walks about 4,000 steps per day. But is that how many steps you get in on the average day?

The Mayo Clinic recommends getting started by tracking how many steps you typically walk per day as of right now. After a few days, you'll have your "baseline number."  

From there, they recommend adding 1,000 additional steps to that baseline number. So, if you typically walk 5,000 steps per day, next week you should aim to walk 6,000 steps per day. After two weeks, evaluate if that number seems right for you or if it's too easy to accomplish. If it's a breeze, consider adding another 1,000, then evaluate again in two weeks. 

Maybe as you follow this process, you'll get up to 10,000 steps. Or maybe you won't, and that's fine. The most important thing is to start with a goal within the realm of possibility, so that you don't get discouraged and give up altogether! Give yourself something reasonable to strive toward, and see how your habits change.

...If You're Trying to Lose Weight

Okay, there's some math involved in this one. (Sorry!)

Consider this: there are 3,500 calories in one pound of body fat. And the CDC finds that folks who aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week are more successful at keeping that weight off over time.

So, if your goal is to lose 1 pound per week, you'll need to burn an additional 3,500 calories per week. A standard 160-pound person of average height can burn around 40 calories per 1,000 steps. Using that metric as a baseline here:

  • 3,500 calories / 40 calories = 87.5 
  • 1,000 steps x 87.5 = 87,500 steps needed to burn 3,500 calories (aka, to lose 1 pound of body fat)
  • 87,500 steps / 7 days per week = 12,500 steps per day

Now, these numbers may vary based on your current height, weight, and fitness levels — but on average, this is how you'd go about calculating your ideal step goal per day if you wish to lose one pound of body fat per week.

That being said, please consult a medical professional before proceeding with a goal like the one outlined above to ensure that it's appropriate for you! 

...If You Just Want to Maintain Your Health

If you're trying to maintain your health, an ideal goal would be to strive to get 10,000 steps in per day and to work out for 30 minutes per day (in accordance with the federal dietary and exercise guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services).

So, beyond aerobic conditioning (aka, your 10,000 steps), if you aim to incorporate 30 minutes per day of strength training, you'll be in a good place in terms of health maintenance. 

Whatever Your Goal May Be: How Can You Get More Steps In?

Chances are that you've heard these tips before, but just in case, here are a few of our favorite ways to sneak more steps in throughout the day:

  • Take the stairs. Not just up, but down — both directions add steps to your total!
  • Bring your dog. Their excitement to get outside just might rub off on you as you stroll through your neighborhood together.
  • Schedule walking meetings. Instead of sitting down for a chat, invite your colleage(s) to walk and talk through whatever topics you need to cover, so long as you don't need a screen to accomplish your meeting's goal.
  • Park further away. Simple, yet effective. Those extra yards between you and the doors to Target add up.
  • Make it a date. Meeting up with a love interest? Kick things off with a stroll as you catch up on each other's lives.

Learn more about making healthy choices from the experts at OrthoCarolina

Whether you've recently experienced an injury, need help with recovery after tough workouts, or are simply experiencing chronic pain and need help managing it, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.