Benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day – and surprising origins of this number

Why 10,000 steps became the standard – and whether you really need to hit this number daily.

Walking is great for almost everyone and the NHS recommends it as a daily exercise for its host of health benefits. But why is it important to walk 10,000 steps a day?

Below, we outline where this magic figure originated from, how you can up your activity level, and what the benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day are.

A man using a step counting appCredit: Shutterstock /Kaspars Grinvalds
10,000 is the magic number for many people

Benefits of walking 10,000 steps every day

Better physical health

A study of 78,000 people in the UK, aged from 40 to 79, found that walking about 10,000 steps a day was linked to lower rates of dementia; a companion study found that taking up to 10,000 steps a day may also be associated with a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Another study of more than 16,000 people linked higher daily steps to progressively lower rates of cardiovascular disease. 


Better mental health

Research has shown that walking 10,000 steps a day can lead to an improvement in mental health and wellbeing. Just being outside and in nature can give you extra headspace; in Japan, forest bathing is now prescribed by doctors. 

Counting steps could help with weight loss

Regular walks can help keep the pounds off. John M Jakicic from the University of Kansas has carried out a series of studies on step counting. He says if you want to lose weight, walk 10,000 steps a day.

He told the university’s website: “For patients interested in weight loss, when coupled with a modest reduction in calorie intake, progressing to 10,000 steps per day has also been shown to enhance long-term weight loss and the prevention of weight regain following weight loss.”

Why 10,000 steps?

The idea of walking 10,000 steps daily actually started out as a marketing campaign during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, by the company manufacturing a pedometer called ‘manpo-kei. This translates as ‘man’ meaning 10,000, ‘po’ meaning steps, and ‘kei’ meaning meter. Some believe the company chose the name because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a man walking. 

The product ended up as a huge success and 10,000 steps remains almost unchallenged as the benchmark to how many steps we should ideally walk in a day. 

A woman checking her step counting watchCredit: Shutterstock / zkolra
If you want to up your daily step count its worth investing in a step counter

Do we really need to take 10,000 steps every day?

Bearing in mind the figure of 10,000 steps came out of a marketing campaign, it begs the question: how may steps should we really walk every day?

A Harvard Medical School study from 2019 found adding extra steps to your daily routine does help increase your lifespan, but also found it plateaued at 7,500 steps a day. Anything over that had a negligible difference to longevity. The study looked at 16,000 women in their 70s over a four-year period.

Another US study by Duke University found that even though counting our steps may prompt us to do more exercise, we enjoy doing taking those steps less than we would if we weren’t tracking them.  

Most experts now agree that counting steps is a great way of motivating you to get moving, but don’t obsess about hitting 10,000 steps a day.

A study of almost 16,000 people aged 70 or over, found that walking an additional 500 steps per day was associated with a 14% lower risk of heart disease, stroke or heart failure. The study published in March 2023, found that compared to adults who took less than 2,000 steps per day, adults who took about 4,500 steps per day had a 77% lower observed risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.

What is important is being active in a way that works best for you bearing in mind your age, your lifestyle and your fitness. If in doubt, talk to your GP about setting your own realistic goals.


How far is 10,000 steps?

Taking 10,000 steps a day equates to about four to five miles (7-8km), depending on your stride. That sounds a lot, but remember, if you aren’t used to walking, start off slowly and follow our guide to how to start walking. 

How to count your steps

You’ll need a step monitor. Studies have shown that using one makes a difference, both short and long term. 

The most well-known step counters are by Fitbit,  but check out our reviews of other brands before you spend any money:

Lara Rosenbaum from Fitbit has great advice for anyone starting out.

“If you’re new to exercise or returning from injury, you’ll want to start slowly to avoid burnout or further injury,” she says.

“Wear a tracker and determine how many steps you take on average each day over the course of a week. That’s your baseline.

“The Mayo Clinic recommends adding 1,000 daily steps each week, so if your baseline is 4,000 steps per day, set your goal at 5,000 steps each day.”

The back of a group of people walking in a parkCredit: Shutterstock / Lightfield Studios
Walking with friends or in a group can help you reach your target without noticing

Our tips on how to reach 10,000 steps

Walking 10,000 steps may seem a lot to fit into a day, so we’ve got some great tips on how to top up your paces without even noticing.

Leave the car at home

If you need to pop to the shops, a friend’s or even to a local restaurant, ask yourself whether you could walk there instead. It’s great for the environment and your body.

Get competitive

Once you start tracking your steps, join an online challenge, set up Strava and sign up for their online challenges or join a charity fundraising event. You could also find out if your friends are keeping count too. Having a friendly challenge can help motivate you to get moving.

Rethink your coffee date

Instead of meeting your friend for a coffee and sitting in a café, buy your coffee to go and head out for a walk together instead. Not only will the coffee keep you warm, but the fresh air is great for your mind and you’ll increase your step count without noticing.

Explore where you live

Do you know what is on your own doorstep? Get out exploring and find out what is outside your front door. You’ll be amazed at what you can find even in urban areas. Buy an Ordnance Survey map for your area or download a walking app for great route suggestions.

Get moving at home

Try using a standing desk at home and march on the spot as you work. Walk around while you take a phone call or march on the spot as you brush your teeth. All of these little things can make a difference to your daily total.

Set an alarm

Set a reminder on your phone, watch or alarm clock to remind you to get up and moving every hour. It doesn’t matter whether you are at a desk or on the sofa. Or if you are at work, use your break to walk and move around rather than sitting at your desk and scrolling through social media.

Make the most of your steps

Saga Exceptional writer and personal trainer Rebecca Fuller says how you complete your steps every day can make a big difference.

She says: “Varying the intensity of your steps can really help improve health and fitness.

“Walking over different terrain, such as through a forest or along a beach, gets the leg muscles working much harder than a gentle stroll along the pavement.

“You might like to incorporate some hills too as this will make you much stronger; the views from the top can be a worthwhile reward.

“Try to vary your pace as you walk for a good cardio workout.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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