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The goal of 10,000 steps per day has considerable appeal for weight controllers because:

  • It is a nice, even, and easily remembered number.
  • Most people report that they feel a sense of accomplishment when they know they’ve walked the equivalent of 5 miles (2000 steps = about 1 mile); it takes a notable effort to move that much every day.
  • Tradition: It has been the recommended goal for weight loss for more than a decade.
  • It seems to work well in our Wellspring programs.

Despite these compelling rationales, researchers continue to study steps and pedometers to determine what works best for whom. Several recent ambitious studies have yielded new information about average steps taken by both adolescents and adults. Some of these results proved surprising and their implications may affect goals for steps per day for weight controllers.

Highlights of the studies:
C. Tudor-Locke et al. (2008). BMI-referenced cut-points for pedometer-determined steps per day in adults. J of Physical Activity & Health. 5: S126-S139.

  • 3127 adults from USA, Australia, Canada, France and Sweden participated for at least 3 days. These participants were not recruited based on weight, disease or activity status – although most were probably actively trying to increase activity and/or decrease weight.
  • Younger adults were more active than older adults.
  • Men were more active than women.
  • Non-overweight people (Body Mass Index or BMI < 25) were more active than overweight people by about 1200 steps per day on average.
  • The cut points that best distinguished overweight and non-overweight people were: 11-12,000 for men and 8-12,000 for women (variations depended on age – higher values for relatively younger groups).
  • Average steps per day were: men = 8,548; women = 7,494. These averages are probably quite a bit higher than actual average steps taken by adults per day. Remember, these participants were wearing pedometers and were probably consciously trying to increase their activity levels. Averages for adults who do not wear pedometers is likely closer to 5,000 steps per day.
  • Recommended classification system based on these and other data:

    SEDENTARY = <5,000 steps per day
    LOW ACTIVE = 5,000- 7,499
    SOMEWHAT ACTIVE = 7,500 – 9,999
    (health benefits begin about here)
    ACTIVE = 10,000 – 12,499
    HIGHLY ACTIVE = > 12,500

M Hohepa et al. (2008). Pedometer-determined physical activity levels of adolescents. J Physical Activity & Health. 5: S140-S152.

  • 236 high school students wore sealed pedometers for 5 days. Average steps per day: boys = 10,849; girls = 9,652.
  • Seniors averaged fewer steps per day (9,422) than those in grades 9-11 (11,079).
  • Students averaged far fewer steps on weekend days (8,241) compared to weekdays (12,259).
  • Only 14.5% of the students achieved at least 10,000 steps per day.
  • Prior research using BMI (overweight) criteria suggested goals of about 11,000 steps per day for girls and 13,000 steps per day for boys (ages 6-12; lower recommendations would be made for high school aged young people – closer to 10,000 steps per day).

These studies indicate that average adults probably take more steps than many people thought (about 5,000 steps per day perhaps) and that young children take far more steps than average adults. The second paper used sealed pedometers (no feedback available to the user) and showed that students tend to decrease activities as they get older and that relatively few of them get 10,000 steps every day. These teenagers also recorded far fewer steps when they didn’t go to school (weekends vs. weekdays).

For weight controllers, simple clear and easily remembered goals probably help them stay focused. We know that 10,000 steps of activity every day, not just on weekends, does such things as increase metabolic rate all day and improve (accelerate) metabolism (use of) fat. We can also see from the Hohepa study that more than 85% of high school students fail to achieve 10,000 steps per day. This level of activity in adults produces notable health benefits. Putting this all together, Wellspring still recommends 10,000 steps per day (each and every day) as the goal for young weight controllers. If they hit that goal or surpass it, they’ll achieve far more consistent activity than their peers, certainly much more activity than the average overweight teenager, and improve their long-term prospects to lose weight and keep it off.