We often hear that the WHO recommends taking 10,000 steps a day to stay in good health. But where does this figure come from and does it really have a scientific basis? We take stock.
It is a value that we have read or heard more and more over the past ten years: to be healthy, you must walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Very often, this compelling statement is accompanied by an authoritative argument: it would be a recommendation from the WHO, the World Health Organization.
This value of 10,000 steps per day has so penetrated the collective unconscious that it now serves as the basis for many connected watches and bracelets, or for fitness or running applications on smartphones. Fitbit, Withings, Apple, Huawei or Samsung are all now demonstrating their equivalent of the fitness circle, in particular by exceeding the well-known 10,000 steps per day.
But does this value have a real origin and is it scientifically substantiated? Not really.
A number of steps per day that does not come from the WHO, but… from a pedometer manufacturer
Contrary to long believed, 10,000 steps per day is not a recommendation from the WHO, but from a pedometer manufacturer.
In July 2019, the WashingtonPost returned in an investigation into Japanese origins in 1965, after the success of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The American newspaper then explained that Japanese watchmaker Yamasa Tokei Keiki had commercially launched one of the first pedometers for the general public, including the name – Manpo-kei – could be translated as “10,000 (man) not (po) meter (boulder ) “, Or “10,000 pedometer“.
We were still a long way from the LCD or OLED screens that we now find on connected watches and bracelets and to display the number of steps taken, the Manpo-kei showed a dial with two hands and a scale from 0 to 10,000 steps . To then move the needle around the dial, the user had to walk 10,000 steps during the day.
Since then, this value of 10,000 steps per day has been adopted by many brands and become a goal in itself, aided by virtual trophies, badges or notifications from various manufacturers. It must be said that the value is particularly easy to remember and requires a relative effort to read every day.
Is it good to take 10,000 steps a day, does it really help?
If the goal of 10,000 steps per day has no scientific or medical origins, but a purely marketing basis, this does not mean that it is not necessary to walk during the day to be in good health. On the contrary.
In its latest report on physical activity, published in October 2022, the World Health Organization shared its recommendations for weekly physical activity:
Physical activity refers to all the movements we perform, especially in leisure time, at the workplace or to move from one place to another. Physical activity of moderate or sustained intensity has beneficial effects on health.
There is no doubt that walking offers several health benefits. Among the health benefits, the WHO lists the prevention of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various forms of cancer or high blood pressure. The walk also has the advantage of “maintain a healthy body weight and improve mental health, quality of life and well-being“.
The key then is to determine from the number of steps taken during the day, these benefits are noticeable. The WHO makes several recommendations for adults aged 18 to 64. The most important – and easiest to implement – consists of “spend at least 150 to 300 minutes per week doing moderate-intensity endurance activities“. In concrete terms, this means 21.5 to 43 minutes per day of moderate activity, such as walking.
If we were to convert this value of 300 minutes of walking per week – taking into account a high cadence of 120 steps per minute to get a “medium intensity» — we would arrive at a value of 5142 steps per day, so much lower than the WHO recommendation. A figure confirmed by a scientific meta-analysis published in the scientific journalEuropean Journal of Preventive Cardiologyin August 2023. Based on 17 previous studies among a total sample of more than 225,000 people, the researchers were able to demonstrate “a significant association between the number of steps per day and the reduction in causes of death with a significant reduction of 3867 steps per day“.
However, this is only a basic recommendation and WHO also encourages:increase the practice of a moderate-intensity endurance activity to more than 300 minutes […] to obtain additional health benefitsAbove all, the World Health Organization invites adults to “aim to exceed recommended levels of physical activity at moderate to vigorous intensity to reduce the harmful effects of a highly sedentary lifestyle“. It is therefore advisable to exceed these 300 minutes of activity per week to, why not, reach these 10,000 steps every day.
Finally, going beyond a certain number of steps per day is a more regular activity that will be a source of health and body benefits by increasing your energy expenditure and improving cardiovascular performance. Most watch or bracelet manufacturers now allow their users to set their own daily step goal.
Others, like Garmin, will automate this goal based on steps taken over the past few days, ensuring the goal remains realistic but still increases slightly each day.
10,000 steps per day, how far in km is that?
Of course, not everyone accurately counts the number of steps taken during the day. And if bracelets, connected watches or smartphones equipped with gyroscopes or accelerometers now allow us to count these steps for us thanks to their pedometer functions, not everyone necessarily activates this option.
To know the distance to be covered to reach these 10,000 steps, simply perform a simple calculation: multiply the distance covered by each step by 10,000.
When walking – since this is the main recommendation – the length of a step will depend on several criteria, in particular the size of the person or the speed. On average, an adult’s stride length usually ranges from 50 to 80 cm. Taking the average value of 65 cm in length, we can therefore conclude that to respect the recommendation of 10,000 steps per day, a distance of 6.5 km would have to be covered daily.
What daily walking distance does WHO recommend?
For its part, the World Health Organization recommends: “150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity endurance activity“. If we maintain an average walking pace of 5 km/hour, this corresponds to a distance between 12.5 and 25 km per week, or between 1.79 and 3.57 km of walking per day. So we are still far from the distance of 6.5 km that comes from 10,000 steps per day. However, this is a simple recommendation that should simply be “exceeded» according to the WHO’s own words.
How long does 10,000 steps take per day?
Another way to convert this number of steps per day is to analyze it in terms of walking time during the day. To do this you just need to know the cadence, that is, the number of steps taken per minute.
On average, an adult walks at a pace of between 60 and 120 steps per minute. Again, it will all depend on the size of the person or their speed. Let’s take the median value of 90 steps per minute. Walking 10,000 steps during the day therefore corresponds to a total of 111 minutes of walking, or 1 hour and 51 minutes per day. To be precise, for a person with a cadence of 60 steps per minute we arrive at 2h46. For someone who walks faster, with a cadence of 120 steps per minute, this corresponds to 1 hour and 23 minutes.
How much daily walking time does the WHO recommend?
We can therefore get closer to the recommendations formulated by the WHO in October 2022. For an adult, as we have seen, the World Health Organization recommends “150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity endurance activity” Or “75 to 150 minutes of endurance activity at sustained intensity“. Because walking is an activity of average intensity, we arrive at a maximum of 300 minutes per week, or 42 minutes per day. A recommendation that is well below the figure of 1h23, subtracted from 10,000 steps. But here too, advice is given. the WHO to exceed this threshold to “to reduce the harmful effects of a highly sedentary lifestyle“.
How do you take 1000 steps a day?
Nowadays you no longer need to buy a pedometer to measure the number of steps you take during the day. Of course, there’s no point in counting steps either, as some of your most used devices will do it for you.
On smartphones there are many applications that will take advantage of the integrated gyroscope and accelerometer to count the number of steps you take every day. The best known are undoubtedly Google Fit on Android and Health on iPhone.
The problem with the smartphone is that you don’t always have it with you. To compensate, connected watches and bracelets are an effective solution for counting the number of steps taken. They are also usually equipped with an accelerometer and a gyroscope with which movements can be analyzed and converted into steps taken.
To help you choose the best, in our guides we recommend several models for the best connected watches and the best connected bracelets.
Finally, connected rings are gradually entering the market with several established players – Oura, Ultrahuman, Circular, etc. – and others expected in the coming months, such as Samsung. These rings, aimed at the health of the user, also make it possible to count the steps taken.
It is clear that these devices are far from perfect and it happens that a watch confuses brushing teeth with a sprint or a few strokes of a spatula in a pan while jogging, but you will have understood: the idea is not necessarily the achieving the absolute target of 10,000 steps per day, but simply to be able to count the activities performed daily in order to do better the next day.
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