How many steps should you take? This is how to find your perfect step goal
When I wrote my blog about making your daily steps more fun, I included a bit on how many steps you’re supposed to take, so your step goal.
And well, it turns out that the holy grail of step goals, 10 000 steps, is a marketing ploy from Japan. Yeah, that marketing campaign did really well!
So since not even research can agree on the perfect amount of steps and the perfect step goal is different for everybody, I thought we should talk about how to decide on a step goal that works for you personally.
- The benefits of getting active
- The myth of 10 000 steps
- So what’s the right step goal for weight loss, kids, teenagers, adults, and seniors?
- How to set your step goal
Benefits of getting active
I wrote a long list with reasons to exercise and be active a while ago, but here is just a handful of benefits:
- Being active helps increase happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, which all help with your well-being and happiness. Exercise also breaks down the stress hormone cortisol. This combination works against depressed feelings and stress.
- Lowers risks of different types of cancer (colon cancer, breast cancer), cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, strokes, fractures, osteoporosis, and arthritis, plus improves your immune system.
- Better sleep. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up less often during the night.
- Train your endurance, stamina, and strength so you’ll be able to stay independent longer as you get older.
- Improve your sex life, thanks to more energy, higher self-confidence, and a higher libido after exercise.
Data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey shows that only 53% of American adults met the physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity. The Health Survey for England in 2016 shows that 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over, do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Only 34% of men and 24% of women do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
The myth of 10 000 steps
10 000 steps are seen as the holy grail of step goals.
It’s a beautiful number. And it’s not unhealthy to walk 10 000 steps a day.
But unfortunately, it’s also an impossible step goal for many people and their lifestyles.
The good news is that 10 000 steps isn’t a medically-researched number. It’s actually a marketing strategy from Japan to sell more step counters.
I know right?!
In reality, your active minutes are much more important than your steps. Most international activity guidelines mention active minutes. Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week. That’s 22 minutes a day (or 30 minutes x 5 days). And if you’re cycling or swimming for an hour, your steps won’t go up (much), but you’re definitely active. You can track your active minutes with activity trackers like Fitbit and smartwatches.
But ok, let’s talk step goals.
What’s the correct step goal?
The short answer? Your perfect step goal completely depends on your fitness level and goals.
Here’s what a few studies say:
- A study from Harvard Medical School shows that the group who reached 7 500 steps or beyond had a decreased mortality rate but no added benefit came with more steps than 7 500.
- The Dutch Heart Foundation and National Health Organization recommend 5 000 steps during your normal day (the average Dutch person walks 5 000 to 6 000 steps a day) and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, which you may count as 3 000 steps, for a total of 8 000 steps a day.
- Research at the University of Texas has demonstrated that when walking less than 5 000 steps a day, you’re less able to metabolize fat the next day. More fat increases your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Walking 8 500 steps per day protects against this effect.
My opinion? Try to include as much activity as possible and aim to have those 30 minutes of moderate-intense activity a day, minimum. Whether that’s walking, swimming, cycling, or something else.
For some people, 8 000 steps is an impossible task, while for others it’s their morning dog walk. I think it’s a good guideline though if you want to set a specific step goal. And for many people, it’s much more realistic than 10 000 steps!
Now, I know many people are also looking for step goals for kids, step goals for seniors, and step goals for weight loss:
Step goal for weightloss
There’s no magic number of steps that will help you lose weight.
You’ll lose fat when you burn more calories than you consume. So if you’re maintaining your weight with your current eating pattern, upping your steps would be one way to burn more calories and lose weight without having to adjust your eating pattern.
However, I’m not a fan of ‘punishing’ yourself with activity so you can eat as a reward. Looking at exercise as a punishment is not healthy. If you don’t enjoy walking, try out different activities until you find one you enjoy! (Or read my tips for making your steps more fun!)
Step goal for kids and teens
There’s no minimum step goal for kids. WHO physical activity guidelines recommend at least 1 hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 17 years old, but all activity is better than none. This age group should also incorporate muscle and bone-strengthening activities 3 times a week and limit the amount of time spent sedentary.
Step goal for adults
As mentioned above, there’s no one specific step goal for adults. WHO physical activity guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. More activity is always better and limit the time you spend sedentary.
Step goals for seniors (65 years and older)
There’s also no specific step goal for people aged 65 years and above. WHO physical activity guidelines recommend the same as for adults, plus balance exercises three times a week.
How to decide on a step goal
Ok, so you’ve read all of the above and you’ve decided you want to increase your steps?
That’s great! I don’t want to be that person, but I know you’re gonna love it, and the results. If you do it right, that is.
Here are my tips for setting a step goal (and getting those results):
- Start by looking at your current average and then decide on a specific goal. Write it down. Is it realistic? Does it sound like fun, or does it make you apprehensive?
- Consider what you need to reach your goal. Do you have the knowledge and skills to reach this goal? Do you have (or can you create) the time and opportunity to get your steps in?
- Start small. That goal that you wrote down in step 1, how much higher is it than your current average? I suggest cutting it up in sub-goals. Don’t raise your goal from 3 000 steps on average to 10 000 steps on average. Instead, aim for 1 000 extra steps for the next week or two. That could be a 10-minute walk every day after dinner, getting out a bus stop earlier to and from work, or taking a quick walk during your lunch break. If that goes well, add another 1 000 steps every week or two until you’re at your goal.
- Maintain it by keeping it fun. Challenge friends and family to up their activity. Invite them for a walk together and have some quality time while you’re at it. Find more ways to make your daily steps more enjoyable here.