With the popularity of fitness watches like the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Garmin, or health trackers like the Oura Ring and WHOOP Strap, the ability to keep track of daily step count has become one of the primary metrics that people use to set and achieve exercise goals.
As such, because counting steps taken per day is such an inexpensive, simple way to quantify activity level using a pedometer, lots of research has emerged about how many steps you should take per day for health and to reduce your risk of premature mortality.
But, how many steps should you take a day based on age? How many steps a day is good?
In this guide, we will discuss why keeping track of your daily step count can be important and look at the recommended steps per day by age to help you determine how many steps a day you should take for your own health and fitness goals.
We will look at:
- How Many Steps a Day Is Considered Active?
- How Many Steps a Day Is Good?
- How Many Steps Should I Take a Day By Age?
Let’s jump in!
How Many Steps a Day Is Considered Active?
We hear a lot about the importance of being active, or rather, research has consistently demonstrated health risks associated with being “inactive“ or having a sedentary lifestyle.
The general consensus among the medical community is that taking fewer than 5,000 steps per day is considered to be sedentary, so in order to hit the minimum number of steps per day to be “active,“ you should be walking 5,000 steps a day.
According to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the average adult takes 2,000 steps per mile while walking.
Therefore, walking 5,000 steps a day equates to roughly 2.5 miles of walking or 4 kilometers a day.This threshold level of walking 5,000 steps a day to be active is somewhat disheartening yet also hopeful.
It can be seen as disappointing, given the fact that the research shows that the majority of adults in the United States only take an average of 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, which equates to 1.5 to 2 miles for most adults.
Because even walking 4,000 steps per day falls below this 5,000 steps per day threshold as the minimum number of steps per day to be active, we can say that the majority of American adults are sedentary—at least according to these guidelines.
At the same time, if you try to look at things from the “glass half full“ perspective, walking 5,000 steps a day is a lot more doable than 10,000 steps a day.
Because a lot of the previous activity recommendations were to get 10,000 steps a day, and certainly 10,000 steps a day or close to it is recommended for health, if you are well below that, even striving to just build up to 5,000 steps a day is a great starting place.
Sometimes, when the goal is too lofty, we get unmotivated and feel defeated, taking a “what’s the point?” attitude if it just seems too impossible.
However, if you know that a more manageable goal like 5,000 steps a day is enough to be considered active and will move you out of the secondary category, there is still evidence to suggest that this can be beneficial for your health.
After all, we know that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with numerous physical and health problems, so if your activity level is enough to be “active” with how many steps you take per day, you can somewhat reduce these risks.
How Many Steps a Day Is Good?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and certain cancers.
This works out to exercising 30 minutes a day five days a week, but it is generally thought that the recommended steps per day should be above and beyond these physical activity minimums.
Most of the health messaging we hear is that you should aim to walk 10,000 steps per day, which is roughly equal to five miles.
The good news is that one study found that just walking 4,400 steps per day reduces the risk of death by 41% compared to walking fewer than 2,700 steps per day.
The mortality risk continues to decline up until about 7,500 steps per day when it levels off.
Based on currently available evidence, the medical community uses the following number of steps per day to classify activity levels in adults:
- Sedentary: Less than 5,000 steps per day
- Low-Active: 5000-7499 steps a day on top of sports or exercise
- Somewhat active: 7,500-9,999 steps a day
- Active: 10,000 steps/day
- Highly Active: More than 12500 steps a day
How Many Steps Should I Take a Day By Age?
A large review amassed the data from 15 studies with a total sample size of 47,471 adults over a median follow-up of 7.1 years.
The results of the study found that the 10,000 steps per day “rule” wasn’t valid. Moreover, the number of steps a day to improve health and reduce the risk of disease was age-dependent.
For adults over the age of 60, the risk of premature death and disease decreased significantly until 6,000–8,000 steps per day, after which the benefits of a higher daily step count leveled off.
This evidence suggests that adults over 60 years of age only need to hit 6,000 steps a day for health and that beyond 8,000 steps a day, there are no additional health benefits or reduced risk of disease.
For adults under age 60, walking up to 8,000 steps per day was associated with a decreased risk of death and disease, but over 8,000 steps a day did not further improve health or decrease the risk of death.
This is not to say that walking 10,000 steps a day will be worse for your health than walking 8,000 steps a day, but rather the relative benefits of walking 8,000 vs 10,000 steps a day for adults are similar.
Therefore, pushing yourself to walk 10,000 steps a day may not be necessary; aiming for 8,000 steps a day might be more attainable and just as beneficial.
On average, compared with adults in the lowest steps per day quartile, adults who took more steps per day had a 40% to 53% lower risk of mortality.
Walking more steps per day up to a certain level was associated with a progressively lower risk of all-cause mortality. These benefits and necessary steps a day were similar by sex but varied by age.
Results revealed a progressively lower risk of mortality among adults aged 60 years and older until about 6,000–8,000 steps per day and among adults younger than 60 years until about 8,000–10,000 steps per day.
The dose-dependent response in terms of how many steps a day reduced the risk of all-cause mortality is thought to be lower for older adults because the intensity and physiological impact of walking is more significant relative to the same number of steps for a young adult.
Therefore, older adults can achieve the same health benefits by walking fewer steps a day since the impact or effectiveness of each step is greater.
Interestingly, in addition to looking at how many steps a day is associated with reducing the risk of mortality and diseases, some of the studies looked at step rate, how fast you have to walk, or the intensity of the walking workouts to enjoy these health benefits of walking.
The results were inconclusive, demonstrating that there did not seem to be a significant association between walking faster and having a lower risk of disease or mortality.
In other words, as long as you are walking enough steps per day, you can walk at a comfortable, conversational pace and don’t have to “power walk” for health.
If you are struggling with motivation or need some help structuring beginner walking workouts, a 30-day walking challenge for beginners can be a great way to get started walking and establish a consistent habit.