Tracking our steps has become almost as common as apple pie. If you haven’t adopted this wildly popular habit, chances are you know a few people that have. Most tracking devices set a goal of 10,000 steps, roughly five miles, as a daily target. But is that number really necessary? Here’s what you need to know.

10,000 steps
The number has a history but isn’t based on any scientific evidence. In the mid-1960’s, a Japanese man called Y. Hatano popularized the number as a catchy way of promoting his pedometer. The tagline he used, manpo-kei, is roughly translated as “10,000 steps meter.”

All steps are not created equal
Stride and speed are just two things that impact how much energy is expended with one step. For example, it is reasonable to assume that 10,000 steps at a moderate pace might lead to greater caloric expenditure than 10,000 steps at a leisurely pace.

Consider your goal
Aiming for a goal of 10,000 steps can be very useful if you are largely sedentary. Having that number in the back of your mind – or ticking on your wrist – may give you the motivation you need to move more all day. In this case, you need the 10,000 steps as an aspirational daily goal. At the very least it would be important to establish a baseline and build from there. For example, if you are currently taking 2,000 steps per day you can help yourself by increasing that number  10% every week or so. Exercise is important for improved overall emotional and physical health outcomes, but not alone. You must pair fitness with regular movement all day long. Working to reach 10,000 steps can help.

The three keys to weight loss

A pair of female legs standing on a bathroom scale with an apple between them.
If you’re trying to lose weight and doing little more than taking 10,000 steps per day, you are unlikely to achieve much success. Boost your benefits and banish more calories with this formula:
•    Move more all day to increase NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. According to,  even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic actions that culminate in an individual’s daily NEAT. Aiming for 10,000 steps can increase your NEAT. But you will also boost your NEAT with activities like taking the stairs, gardening, chopping vegetables,  or standing while you take calls.
•    Regular exercise – find something you enjoy and do it at least 30 minutes three times each week.
•    Reduced caloric intake – when you consume fewer calories you’ll have fewer calories to burn.

Aiming for 10,000 steps can be an important part of your health and fitness goals, but it cannot be your only weapon in the health and weight loss war. Use this goal as a springboard to greater activity. When you add exercise and good nutrition, you’ve got a winning combination.