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We applaud anyone who takes steps—literally—to improve their health. But we have to wonder—will following the trendy tip to “take 10,000 steps per day” actually make a difference for you?

The Pros & Cons of Counting Your Steps

Walking 10,000 steps per day has been shown to offer specific health benefits—but this alone probably isn’t enough to maximize your fitness and well-being.

For the typical person, 10,000 steps figures out to be around 5 miles or so. We don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty decent distance to walk every day! And according to several studies, a person can reasonably expect to see some improvements in their health (like lowered blood pressure, better mood, and improved blood sugar control) by tracking and walking this far on a daily basis.

However, we also need to make sure that we’re doing other types of exercise as well, including resistance training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), to round out our overall fitness and help us hit our personal health goals (including fat loss and strength gains).

In other words: don’t rely on your steps alone.

Having a “steps taken” target in mind can inspire you to get up and move more—but if you’re not paying attention, it could become a limit you hit rather than a goal you achieve.

What happens when you hit all your steps? If you pat yourself on the back, chuck your sneakers off, and sit on the couch the rest of the day, it’s possible you’re seeing that 10,000 number as some arbitrary finish line that may or may not be right for you.

Instead, pay attention to how your body responds to your increased activity level. Think: am I feeling more energized? Am I sleeping better? Is my mood better? Are my back and knees killing me? Depending on your size, age, weight, overall health status, and many many many other factors, a step count of 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, or more may be more appropriate for you. Assess and adjust as you go.

Remember: every body is different, so the one-size-fits-all adages just…well, don’t necessarily fit.

Quantity is a useful measure—but the quality is important, too.

Are all your steps slow and easy? If so, you may not be working hard enough to actually elicit any meaningful change in your body. So, in addition to tracking how many steps you take every day (if you’re so inclined, that is), pay attention to how you’re walking, as well. Aim to put a little pep in at least some of your steps, whether that’s by walking faster, climbing stairs, or walking on challenging terrains like sand, grass, or hiking trails.

The bottom line: live an active lifestyle, with or without a pedometer. Yes, park in a far corner of the parking lot, take the stairs and go for a walk on your lunch break. But don’t be married to the 10,000 goal—step back and look at your whole lifestyle to see where and how you can maximize your well-being.

 

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