The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Should we be accumulating 10,000 steps per day?

Posted in

Monday, Sep 06, 2021


Chances are that if you use a wearable (aka physical activity tracker) of any kind, you have, at some point, heard that adults should strive towards accumulating 10,000 steps (~5 miles) on a daily basis.

However, where does this number come from and how accurate, from an evidence-based perspective, is it? Briefly, the 10,000 steps/day first became popular in the 1960s as a result of a Japanese pedometer company that predominantly utilized the number as a marketing tool. However, the research behind the, in my opinion, large number, was lacking. Recently, this very topic was examined by Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

It is generally well-accepted that 10,000 steps/day will lead to improved health, but as mentioned above this number has little scientific evidence behind it.


As such, the objective of Dr. Lee’s study was to examine the relationship between the number of steps taken per day and all-cause mortality (aka death from any cause) in approximately 17,000 women. As part of the Women’s Health Study, participants were instructed to wear a physical activity tracker during their waking hours for 7 days. The sample was then divided into quartiles based on the average number of steps taken per day (Group 1: 2,700, Group 2: 4,400, Group 3: 5,900, and Group 4: 8,400) and followed for an average duration of 4.3 years. During the follow-up, 504 deaths occurred. The results of the study showed that compared to Group 1, Group 2 had a significant 41% reduction in risk of death from any cause. Similarly, Group 3 and Group 4 were also significantly less likely to die from any cause, and their risk reduction was 46% and 58%, respectively. Lastly, when examining those participants who were consistently accumulating more than 7,500 steps per day, additional benefits were minimal or non-existent.

 So what’s the take-home message? If you’re currently inactive, increasing your daily steps to as little as 4,400 may result in significant health benefits.


You might note that this is far lower than the well-known number of 10,000, but more importantly 4,400 is doable by most adults. Additionally, while accumulating more steps did lead to further risk reduction, the difference between Groups 2 and 3 was minimal. Based on this evidence, it’s important that we don’t get too consumed with the 10,000 steps per day thoughts, and know that increasing your step counts, even if by only 2,000 steps per day, will likely yield significant health benefits. The key for most people is MOVE MORE.