5 benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day

It may not have the buzz of other forms of exercise, but the simple act of walking can improve your sleep, heart health, blood sugar, and more. Here’s how hitting a daily step goal can keep you working towards your weight-health goals.
Published August 22, 2017 | Updated June 11, 2024
Benefits of Walking 10,000 Steps a DayBenefits of Walking 10,000 Steps a Day

Ever since step counters began showing up everywhere — on fitness trackers, smartwatches, phones — walking 10,000 steps a day, or about five miles, has become a low-key fitness craze. And the popularity is well-earned. A 2017 study published in Obesity Science & Practice found that, as part of a behavioral weight-loss program, walking 10,000 steps a day is just as effective as doing five 30-minute workouts per week. But while it’s easy to get hung up on the 10,000 number — it’s impressive sounding! — health benefits can happen at nearly any step count. Here’s what to know.

Do I need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

While it’s a great goal, you don’t need to make it your goal. According to a 2022 meta-analysis, walking 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day is plenty to reduce your risk for premature death, especially if you are over 60 years old. And even newer research shows that around 3,800 steps is enough to make some difference. The key is consistency, since being active on a daily basis can reduce the risk for 35 different chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and depression.

If you’re just getting going and are feeling overwhelmed by such a big step count, experts say you should start small. “For someone who does not usually get a lot of steps in the day, I encourage them to start with a realistic increase — say, 1,000 or 2,000 steps more than they would normally get” says Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., RD, the senior director of global clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers. “Once they are able to reach this goal and sustain it, they could increase their target to work towards their next milestone. While it may be tempting to set big, lofty goals, setting smaller ones is more beneficial to the journey.”

5 health benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day

1. It’s good for your heart.

Research shows that getting between 9,000 and 10,500 steps a day can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. And the benefits are seen regardless of how much sedentary time you have throughout the rest of the day. One reason why: Physical activity like walking increases your stroke volume, or how much blood the heart pumps per beat, according to John Thyfault, PhD, associate professor of physiology at Kansas University Medical School in Kansas City, Kansas. “A larger stroke volume is a sign of greater aerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity is arguably the best predictor of mortality and disease risk.”

RELATED: How exercise makes the heart stronger

2. It helps reduce body fat.

Walking can help you lose body fat, according to research. Slow and steady might be the best approach here, since the study found that, among postmenopausal women, walking for a longer distance at more moderate speeds led to the most fat loss (an average loss of 7.5 percent of body fat in 30 weeks). This is because when you’re more active, the food you eat is used to fuel muscles, says Thyfault, who has performed studies on how calories are used depending on activity level. If you move less throughout the day, calories are more likely to be stored as fat.

RELATED: Does exercise make you hungry?

3. It can help stabilize your blood sugar.

When glucose (a.k.a. blood sugar) and insulin get too high, it’s because your body isn’t efficiently converting food into energy. “That surge of glucose and insulin after a meal is a predictor of who may develop diabetes down the road and also a predictor of cardiovascular disease risk,” says Thyfault. That’s where a daily walking habit comes in. Activity stimulates our muscles to essentially grab glucose from the bloodstream to use as fuel, which can, in turn, lower blood sugar over time. On top of that, research shows that if you have signs of prediabetes — an elevated blood sugar that’s below the threshold for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis — walking can help you avoid developing diabetes.

RELATED: 5 signs you could have prediabetes

PQ: “While it may be tempting to set big, lofty goals, setting smaller ones is more beneficial to the journey.” — Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., RD, the senior director of global clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers

4. It can improve how your brain ages.

The ability to learn new tasks, grow new brain cells, and stave off cognitive decline can all be boosted by hitting a daily step goal. A 2015 study showed that just one bout of exercise can enhance the brain’s ability to reorganize, repair, and adapt to new situations. Other research has found that people who start a walking regimen in mid-life have improved episodic memory (something that is impaired in people with Alzheimer’s disease) and overall cognition when they get older. And it’s never too late to make an impact: Among individuals who are 80 and older, those who take part in a walking routine tend to have sharper brains and a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

5. It can help build a healthy routine.

Small successes build upon themselves, which is why having a daily step goal can be so motivating. “Setting and accomplishing a series of small goals helps increase your belief in your own ability,” says Cardel. “Once you accomplish something once, it increases your confidence in your ability to do it again.” In other words, if you added 3,000 steps to your daily routine yesterday and today, you might find it easier to hit that mark again tomorrow.

The bottom line

Walking 10,000 steps a day can deliver some serious health benefits, like helping control blood sugar, reducing body fat, and improving your cardiovascular health. But you shouldn’t have an all-or-nothing mindset. Any amount of daily walking can help improve your physical and mental well-being, so you’re still making progress if your daily step goal is closer to 5,000.