For general fitness, most adults should aim for 10,000 steps per day, with fewer than 5,000 steps being a sign of a sedentary lifestyle. However, the number of steps a person walks on average will depend on a person’s age, current fitness level, and health goals.

This recommendation comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Walking is an effective form of low impact exercise that can help people improve or maintain their physical fitness.

In this article, we look in more detail at how many steps people should take each day for:

  • general health
  • weight loss
  • physical strength

We also look at the requirements for different age groups and sexes and explain how to take more steps each day.

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Walking is a form of low impact, moderate intensity exercise that has a range of health benefits and few risks. As a result, the CDC recommend that most adults aim for 10,000 steps per day. For most people, this is the equivalent of about 8 kilometers, or 5 miles.

Most people in the United States only take 3,000–4,000 steps per day, which equates to about 1.5–2 miles. As doctors generally consider fewer than 5,000 steps per day to be sedentary, this means that many people in the U.S. are not getting as many steps as they should to benefit their health.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, walking can improve:

  • muscle strength
  • range of motion
  • blood flow
  • flexibility
  • balance, which can help prevent falls
  • joint stiffness
  • mood and sleep
  • breathing

Walking can also help improve or prevent certain health conditions, such as obesity, osteoporosis, and age-related memory loss.

The benefits of walking appear to increase with step count. A 2020 study found that participants who took 8,000 steps per day had a 51% lower risk of dying by any cause compared with those who took 4,000 per day.

This trend continued with higher step counts, as participants who took 12,000 steps per day had a 65% lower risk of dying than those who took 4,000.

This finding suggests that the benefits of walking increase with step count but also shows that people who cannot reach 10,000 steps in a day can still benefit from the activity.

The number of steps to take for weight loss can vary depending on an individual’s current weight, food intake, and target weight. However, 10,000 steps is a good goal for most people.

Some evidence suggests that for weight loss, exercise intensity is also important.

A 2018 analysis of 363 people with obesity found that those who took 10,000 steps per day and spent at least 3,500 of those steps engaged in moderate-to-vigorous activity lasting for bouts of 10 minutes or longer experienced enhanced weight loss.

Keeping up this level of activity helped participants maintain their weight loss until the 18-month follow-up.

The study included a mix of white, Black, Latinx, and Asian participants, most of whom were female. However, the researchers state that further clinical trials are necessary to validate these results.

If a person wishes to use walking as a way to improve their strength, flexibility, or stamina, they may also benefit from more intense forms of walking.

For example, walking uphill activates three times more muscle fibers than walking on a flat surface. People who get many of their 10,000 steps walking up hills will, therefore, get a more thorough workout.

Other ways to get more cardiovascular benefits from walking and boost muscle strength include:

  • climbing stairs
  • stepping up and down on a stool
  • walking briskly for sustained periods
  • focusing on objects in the distance, which can increase walking speed by up to 23%
  • wearing weighted wrist or ankle straps
  • Nordic walking, which involves the use of poles to work out the upper and lower body

The average walking speed in the U.S. is about 3 miles per hour (mph). To increase walking speed, people can try keeping pace with up-tempo music. For example, taking steps in time with the beat of popular chart hits can help people walk at a rate of 3.5–5 mph.

There is no conclusive evidence that natal sex affects the number of steps that a person should take. Therefore, 10,000 steps per day is a suitable goal for males and females.

Brisk walking is also a safe exercise during pregnancy. The CDC recommend that pregnant people get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.

Most adults require a similar level of physical activity for optimum health. However, the CDC note that children, adolescents, and older adults have different needs:

3–5 years

The CDC recommend that children aged 3–5 years remain physically active throughout the day. It is unclear how many steps this translates into, but for most children, it means engaging in active play every day.

6–17 years

The CDC state that children and adolescents aged 6–17 years should get at least 60 minutes of aerobic and strengthening exercise per day. A 2012 study estimated that this is equivalent to 11,290–12,512 steps.

Therefore, 12,000 steps may be a helpful goal for people in this age group. However, to meet the CDC recommendations, at least 1 hour of this activity would need to be of moderate-to-vigorous intensity.

Older adults

Older adults can aim for a similar step count to younger adults. However, where this is not possible, a lower step count may still provide significant benefits.

A large 2019 study involving older females found that participants who walked 4,400 steps per day had a lower mortality rate after 4.3 years than those who only took 2,700 steps per day.

In this study, the more steps people took, the lower the mortality rate. However, this trend leveled off at about 7,500 steps per day. This finding suggests that a goal of 7,000–8,000 steps may be sufficient for older adults to see significant benefits from walking.

This study did not investigate the other health benefits of walking, such as its impact on cardiovascular health.

The authors also note that most of the participants were white and that they were primarily more active and of higher socioeconomic status than the general population. As a result, the findings may not be widely applicable.

Getting more steps can be a challenge, particularly for people who lack the time or face other barriers that prevent them from walking more frequently.

However, there are plenty of ways to include more steps in everyday life, such as:

  • taking the stairs instead of using elevators or escalators
  • going for walks during lunch breaks, while meeting with friends, or while talking on the phone
  • using restrooms or meeting rooms that are further away within an office building
  • taking breaks from working, watching TV, or reading to do something active
  • trying new ways to get more steps, such as dancing or hiking
  • parking further away than usual from stores or other destinations
  • getting off public transport a stop early and walking the rest of the way
  • walking to or from work, if possible

Some research shows that people who keep track of their daily step count walk an average of 2,500 more steps a day than people who do not. As a result, some may benefit from using a pedometer, smartwatch, or app that can track steps via a smartphone.

It is important to warm up before exercise and cool down afterward to prevent injuries. If walking causes pain, a person should stop as soon as possible. If the pain is severe, recurrent, or persistent, they should speak with a doctor.

Current guidelines suggest that most adults should aim for about 10,000 steps per day. People with specific goals, such as weight loss or muscle strengthening, may benefit from increasing the intensity of walking.

The benefits of walking appear to increase in line with physical activity. Older children and teenagers can aim for close to 12,000 steps, while those who are older or unable to walk for long can still benefit from lower step counts.