Know Thyself, Know Thy Step Count

For decades, public health experts have recommended that people walk 10,000 steps a day, or roughly 5 miles, to maintain their health. Interestingly, this number wasn’t based on hard science. About 40 years ago, a Japanese manufacturer of pedometers used 10,000 steps as a goal to promote their product, and that number was actually derived from a step count widely touted by Japanese walking clubs.

This doesn’t mean that 10,000 steps isn’t right – most experts still think it’s on target – but it’s hardly the whole story. And it doesn’t answer the question, what if you only do 5,000 steps?  And if walking 10,000 steps is good, are 12,000 steps even better?

In 2004, a research team headed by Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke, then with the Department of Wellness at Arizona State University, introduced the concept of a “graduated step index” for adults, which provided a rating system for daily step counts. Based on their numbers, here’s what your daily numbers say about you:

  • If you walked 5,000 steps or less, you are in the sedentary range. (about 2,500 steps are consumed by everyday tasks like getting dressed, preparing meals or just walking around your house)
  • If you walked 5,000 to 7,499 you are in the low active range.
  • If you walked 7,500 to 9,999 you are in the somewhat active range.
  • If you walked 10,000 to 12,499 you are in the very active range.

Subsequent studies have validated this scale, showing an inverse relationship between step count and health indicators like body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure. Simply put, the lower your step count, the greater your odds of being overweight or having other health issues, like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

So how many steps do you need to take each day to maintain a healthy weight? It varies according to gender and age.  Women 18-40 need to do 12,000 steps; women 40-50 should do 11,000 steps, 50-60 should do 10,000 steps, and those over 60 can do 8,000 steps.

Men between the ages of 18-50 should do 12,000 steps; those over 50 should do 11,000 steps.

Sound like a lot? In reality, walking 1,000 steps takes about 10 minutes! That’s it. If you break down your walks into smaller increments, you’ll see how easy it is to reach those goals. Nonetheless, for most, it will take some effort to hit 10,000 steps per day. We think it’s worth the effort!

Some of you will have already achieved your optimal step count, right off the bat. Congratulations, that’s great!  But, don’t get complacent. It’s very easy to start falling behind, especially when you experience a change in lifestyle, like switching jobs, becoming a parent or a caregiver for an adult family member. The Wellocracy Steps and Bursts strategy can also show you how to increase the intensity of your workout so you maintain good cardiac health.

Use your tracker the way it’s meant to be used! Be sure to check your step count throughout the day so that you don’t fall behind. Do it early and often. You’ll see how quickly you’ll be able to improve your numbers and move to a more active lifestyle.


Colpani, V, Oppermann K, et al. Association between habitual physical activity and lower cardiovascular risk in premenopausal, perimenopausal, and postmenopausal women: A population based study. Menopause Published online Nov.21, 2012.

Tudor-Locke,C; Craig, Cora L, et al. How many steps/day are enough? for adults

Int JBehav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8:79.

Tudor-Locke, C, Bassett, DR Jr, et al.  BMI referenced cut points for pedometer-determined steps per day in adults. J Phys Act Health 2008;5 Suppl 1:S126-39.