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Do you know how many steps you average each day? If you can rattle off the answer without even checking your watch, you’re not alone. Thanks in part to fitness trackers, many of us know exactly how many steps we’re clocking.

But knowing the number of steps you’re taking each day may not be enough information. You also need to know how many you should be taking so that you can meet individual health goals.

Why 10,000 steps?

Regardless of the fitness wearable you purchase, 10,000 steps are likely the magical number that will be preprogrammed into your device. But why 10,000 steps?

Well, when you do the math, 10,000 steps works out to approximately five miles. That’s a number said to help reduce certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Your daily step count also contributes to the CDC’s recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

How many steps should you take a day?

A 2011 study found that healthy adults can take anywhere between approximately 4,000 and 18,000 steps/day, and that 10,000 steps/day is a reasonable target for healthy adults.

If you’re looking for a way to compare your daily steps to an activity level, consider the following categories:

  • Inactive: less than 5,000 steps per day
  • Average (somewhat active): ranges from 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day
  • Very active: more than 12,500 steps per day

The number of steps you aim for in a day should be based on your goals. However, it’s important not to get too focused on that number, at least in the beginning. Instead, certified personal trainer Esther Avant says the important thing is that you’re starting to do more than you have been. In other words, put your energy toward increasing movement throughout the day.

How many steps for weight loss?

If dropping a few pounds is your overall goal, you’ll want to aim for at least 10,000 steps in a day.

While the exact number is based on factors such as your age, gender, and diet, one study found that getting at least 15,000 steps per day is correlated with lower risk of metabolic syndrome.

But if 15,000 steps per day seems like a lofty goal, getting to about 10,000 steps will help you lose weight and improve mood.

How many steps to improve your fitness level?

To improve your fitness level, you need to know how many steps you’re currently averaging in a day. Avant recommends purchasing a pedometer (and you don’t need a pricey one) to see how many steps you’re taking. You can also use your smart phone, as most have built-in step counters.

Then, set a goal for 500 to 1000 steps higher than your current average. She suggests you work on maintaining this slight increase for a week or two (or even more) until you’ve comfortably adapted to the change. Then make another slight increase and repeat the process until you’re getting around 10,000 steps per day.

If your current activity level and step count are on the low end (under 5,000), you may want to start by adding 250 to 500 steps per day. The first week, focus on increasing your step count by 250 each day (or every other day).

Once this feels manageable, add 500 steps each day until you consistently hit 10,000 steps per day. You can then decide to stay at this level or keep adding steps each day to move your step count into the active category.

You can also challenge yourself by adding intervals to your walking. Personal trainer Manning Sumner gives these two examples for adding intervals:

  • run 30 seconds followed by two minutes of walking
  • run 15 seconds followed by one minute of walking

How many steps to maintain your current fitness level?

If you’re happy with the number of steps you take in a day, maintaining your current fitness level might be your primary goal.

But before you settle on this number, make sure you’re meeting the minimum aerobic exercise recommendations, as set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity each week or 30-minutes of activity like walking, five days a week.

The good news: The time you spend on exercise counts towards your daily step count.

Tips to help you incorporate more walking into your day

Now that you know the number of steps you need in a day to meet your goal, it’s time to get moving. Depending on your lifestyle and available time, Avant says there are several approaches you can take to incorporating more walking into your day.

Here are some creative ways to increase your daily step count:

  1. Build in a daily walk. If you have the time/desire, walking for 30-60 minutes each day should put you within striking distance of your step goal.
  2. Take mini-walks. Divide your day into three parts (morning, afternoon, and evening) and commit to taking a 10 to 15-minute walk at each one of those times. By the end of the day, you will have met the recommended 30-minutes of exercise and clocked some serious steps.
  3. Talk in person. Rather than instant-messaging or emailing with coworkers, get up and walk to their desks.
  4. Go the wrong way. Use a bathroom further away from your office just to up your count.
  5. Go the extra mile. Consciously choose to walk a bit further whenever you have the option during the day. For example, park at the top of the parking garage at work and walk down to your building. Skip fighting over a close spot at the grocery store and park further back; all those steps count!
  6. Skip the magazines in the waiting room. Walk while waiting for appointments instead of sitting in the waiting room.
  7. Take the stairs. Yes, this is likely the most popular tip when it comes to getting more steps, but this one comes with a twist. Once you get to the floor or level you’re heading to, turn around and go back down, and then repeat the process.
  8. Walk and talk. Whenever possible, try to take your phone calls in places where you can walk or pace back and forth while talking. This even works for meetings.
  9. Walk during your kids’ activities. If you have kids who play sports or participate in an activity that you have to be present for, walk during their practices or events instead of sitting and watching.

How to stay motivated

Meeting your step count each day takes dedication and discipline. It also requires a commitment from you to put your health first.

If you’re struggling with the motivation to stay on track, Sumner says to replace motivation with discipline. Once you do this, you will reach your goals sooner.

“Motivation will always come and go, but if you commit and stick to a routine no matter how you ‘feel’ then, where motivation might be lacking, your discipline will keep you on the right track,” he explains.

He goes on to say that you have to remind yourself that it’s a choice you’ve committed to making, regardless of whether you feel motivated. “Often what happens is that you may start out not feeling motivated, but if you do it anyway, just get up and go, once you start moving and the blood starts flowing. motivation starts to kick in again,” he explains.

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