Table of Contents
- Experts recommend getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, which translates to about 7,000–8,000 steps per day at a brisk walking pace.
- The 10K-step recommendation dates back to the 1964 Olympics, but it’s not backed by science.
- While setting step goals can help to encourage physical activity, it’s important to consider other types of exercise for comprehensive fitness.
If you use an Apple Watch or Fitbit to track your daily movements, you’re probably familiar with the satisfaction of “closing your circle” or hitting your daily step goal. Many people strive to get 10,000 steps daily, some surpassing that target. But the 10,000-step goal may not live up to the hype when it comes to your health.
The 10K-step goal dates back to a Japanese marketing campaign launched during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, cardiologist Maureen Wang, MD, told Verywell in an email. Ten thousand is a nice round number for a company that sells pedometers, but it’s pretty arbitrary when you consider the health benefits of exercise.
You can achieve some health benefits by simply moving more and sitting less, but adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise per week for the best results.
The key word is “aerobic”—you want to move your body enough that your breathing is heavier, your heart rate is elevated and it’s difficult to hold a conversation, Sherrie Khadanga, MD, director of cardiac rehabilitation at the University of Vermont Medical Center, told Verywell.
It’s great to have any physical activity but to get the cardiovascular benefits, you want it to at least be of moderate intensity, Khadanga said.
Being physically active can help you manage weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve brain health. Regular exercise can also reduce the risk of certain adverse health events and diseases, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Hospitalization and death from infectious diseases, including COVID-19, flu, and pneumonia
- Certain cancers, including bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, and lung cancers, and adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and stomach
So if setting a daily step goal gets you moving, here’s how to make those steps count.
Steps Count—If You Pace Yourself
In one study of daily step counts and mortality in adults aged 40–79, researchers found that getting up to 10,000 steps per day was associated with a lower risk of death, as well as a lower incidence of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
This relationship held up for step counts up to 10,000, meaning that those who got more steps tended to see a lower risk of death and disease. After that maximum step count, there wasn’t enough data to draw a clear conclusion. But the researchers also noted that a higher step intensity, or pace, may provide additional health benefits.
That’s why healthcare providers tend to speak in terms of minutes and intensity of exercise rather than steps per day, Khadanga said. Some of the major health benefits of physical activity come from exercising your heart, which occurs when you exert yourself at a moderate-to-high intensity.
Sherrie Khadanga, MD
If you’re trying to align your step goals with the national recommendations for moderate-intensity exercise, you should aim for 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day at a brisk walking pace.
— Sherrie Khadanga, MD
The American Heart Association (AHA) defines a brisk walking pace as at least 2.5 miles per hour. For city dwellers, that’s hardly considered brisk, New York University Langone cardiologist Sean Heffron, MD, told Verywell. If you can sustain a pace of three miles per hour for 30 minutes, Heffron said that should get you to at least 7,000 steps.
You don’t need to get all 7,000 steps within 30 minutes, Heffron said, as long as you’re maintaining that pace. If your exercise is spaced throughout the day, your overall benefit will probably be similar.
Aim For 30 Minutes of Moderate Exercise Per Day
The AHA recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week, ideally spread throughout the week. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise and add resistance training to strengthen your muscles.
To get a sense of your exercise intensity level, Khadanga said you can track your heart rate with a wearable device or consider your perceived exertion rate: how you feel and whether you can carry on a conversation. If you can respond “yes” or “no,” but anything else would be too much effort, you’re probably at moderate intensity, she said.
Alternatively, calculate your target heart rate. Some wearables will do this for you, but you can start with your maximum heart rate—220 minus your age—and multiply by 0.6, 0.75, or 0.85. Moderate-intensity physical activity should get your heart rate to 60–75% of your maximum, while vigorous-intensity exercise puts your heart rate at about 85% of your max, Khadanga said.
Moderate Intensity Exercise
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity can include anything from brisk walking to dancing to gardening, Khadanga said. Other forms of moderate-intensity exercise include:
- Water aerobics
- Doubles tennis
- Cycling at a leisurely pace (around 10 miles per hour)
- Walking on a treadmill at 2.5 speed or greater
You can split your physical activity into 30-minute increments of moderate physical activity five times a week or work in shorter walks, housework, or other activities.
Personal preference should also play a role in your exercise routine—find what works best for you and stick with it for the most sustainable results, Wang said. Whether throwing a Frisbee in the park or playing pickup basketball, getting your heart rate up is beneficial.
Vigorous Intensity Exercise
If 150 minutes of exercise per week sounds like a lot of time, you can always speed it up by increasing your intensity. Getting 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise weekly can offer similar benefits—as long as a healthcare provider OKs it—and you can break it up over multiple workouts.
Vigorous intensity aerobic activity can include:
- Jogging or power walking (around 4–5.5 miles per hour)
- Cycling faster than 10 miles per hour
- Singles tennis
- Swimming laps
- Jumping rope
- Hiking uphill
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
HIIT can be an efficient way to reap the rewards of exercise in a shorter time frame compared to steady-state activities like walking or running, Wang said. Additionally, working out on machines like a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike allows you to modify the intensity of your exercise based on your needs.
Other Forms of Exercise
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans also emphasize the importance of muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice weekly. This can include bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, and sit-ups, which can be done almost anywhere without equipment, Wang said.
Activities like yoga and pilates can offer physical benefits such as improving flexibility and strength, as well as better mental wellness, Wang said. If the thought of getting 10,000 steps a day is intimidating, and going to the gym is not your jam, focus on moving your body more. Making small changes is more manageable than overhauling your whole routine; your body will thank you for it.
More Exercise Isn’t Always Better
As you’re incorporating more physical activity into your lifestyle, know there is such a thing as too much. Overtraining increases the risk of injuries and may come with adverse effects such as a weakened immune system, Wang said.
People who live relatively sedentary lifestyles stand to benefit the most, Heffron said. Going from 0 to 150 minutes of exercise per week—or from sitting down all day to getting 8,000 steps—will bring a substantial reduction in cardiovascular risk, he said. Upping your weekly goal to 300 minutes of exercise offers a significant benefit, albeit with fewer marked increases. But as you continue to increase the amount of exercise, the benefits taper off.
“You really get a lot of bang for your buck going from nothing to something [in terms of exercise], but then it certainly slows down,” Heffron said.
Remember that the relationship between exercise and health benefits isn’t linear. After a certain point, increasing the intensity or duration of exercise doesn’t necessarily yield more benefits and may increase the risk of injury.
Signs of overtraining may include unexplained tiredness, crankiness, or feeling that your performance has dropped unexpectedly, Wang said. While 10,000 steps a day and 30 minutes of exercise are excellent goals, the best choice varies based on your fitness level, personal goals, and lifestyle.
What This Means For You
If you’re trying to be more active, consistency and listening to your body is more important than step goals. Pick a form of exercise you enjoy, and the results will follow.