Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day? Here's what the experts say.

For many people, walking is a great low-impact workout - and it also happens to be completely free. Studies show that incorporating walking into your exercise routine can reduce your risk of heart disease and even improve your mental health. However, exactly how much walking a person should do each day is up for debate.

One number that might come to mind is 10,000 steps per day - a goal that many people who track their steps strive to achieve every day. It's a number associated with many fitness challenges, and one that many fitness TikTokers swear by for health and weight loss. But is it a number we should all strive for every day?

Dr. Alexis Coslick, a sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, notes that 10,000 steps per day was developed for a marketing campaign for Japanese pedometers and is not an official health recommendation.

"Studies look at the number of steps associated with health benefits and weight loss, but most studies also limit caloric intake rather than assess steps alone," she noted.

Dr. Coslick said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommends "150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise and two days of muscle strengthening per week. In theory, trying to reach one's step count could achieve these exercise goals.

However, the real reason why step count is such an important indicator is because it shows how often you move throughout the day. Tony Coffey, owner of Bloom Training and personal trainer, explains that a person's daily step count "is strongly associated with improved cognition, mood, blood sugar (glucose) control and reduced risk of all-cause mortality, blood pressure and post-prandial triglycerides." Research suggests that increasing one's step count - that is, increasing the frequency with which you move throughout the day - may even help you live longer.

"A recent meta-analysis of more than 175,000 person-years showed that for every additional 1,000 steps you take each day, your risk of dying from all causes drops by 12 percent," Coffey told Yahoo Life. "These data looked at individuals who walked an average of less than 3,000 steps a day to 16,000 steps a day. Walking less than 3,000 steps per day was associated with a 300 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to the 16,000-step group. To put this in perspective, smokers have only a 70 to 80 percent higher all-cause mortality rate than nonsmokers. The amount of activity you do during the day is one of the biggest predictors of your overall life expectancy."

Specifically, however, don't worry too much about the 10,000 steps. Michelle Olson, clinical professor of exercise science at Huntington College in Alabama, notes that 7,000 steps per day may be the best option, according to the study.

"In terms of making a significant impact, a person should accumulate 7,000 steps a day. Taking 7,000 steps can significantly reduce health risks compared to doing just 4,000 steps," she shared. "You do gain additional health benefits from taking more steps toward 10,0000 per day, but the health level will improve."

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