How far should you really walk?

Many people have heard that for a decent state of health you should walk 10,000 steps a day. But is there scientific evidence to support this claim?

Illustration of a person choosing stairs instead of the elevator.
Research shows that physical activity improves our ability to think and reason. Photo: Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars

Text: Ola Danielsson, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 2/2021. 

"The research says that at least 7,000 steps correspond to the general recommendation for physical activity that the World Health Organization supports," says Eva Jansson, Professor Emerita at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet. 

The recommendation, however, does not mention the number of steps but expresses this in terms of intensity, duration and frequency. It says that one should be physically active at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week (e.g., taking a brisk walk) or 75 minutes per week at high intensity (e.g., running).  

Since, historically, research has measured physical activity in these other ways, it is not all that easy to express the recommendation as the number of steps.  

The Council of a 10,000 steps was initially developed a little arbitrarily, as a simple message stating that it is good thing to be mobile. As more objective measurement methods have been developed, such as pedometers and accelerometers, it has subsequently been possible to show that the recommendation pretty well hits the target. 

"We know, for example, that healthy adults take between 4,000 and 18,000 steps per day, so that 10,000 steps per day seems to be reasonable. Researchers who have compared the number of steps with time spent in different degrees of intensity have concluded that the recommendation for adults should be at least 7,000 steps per day," says Eva Jansson. 

The recommendation is based on the fact that we spend part of the day with physical activities at a low level of intensity, such as small chores at home and at work, giving about us about 3,000 – 4,000 steps. To this you must add 3,000 – 4,000 steps, which corresponds to 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week or a 30-minute walk each day.  

Facts about FYSS

More reading about the background of the recommendations and what effects that can be expected can be found on the fyss.se

More reading