If you don’t do any intentional exercise and spend most of your time sitting, a first goal may be to start walking 5,000 steps or 2.5 miles per day. Once 5,000 steps per day is manageable, you can work up to a goal of 7,500 steps per day then 10,000 per day.
The recommended amount of exercise for overall health for adults is 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week along with strength training the major muscle groups at least 2 times per week.
Incorporating exercise into your daily life is associated with many health benefits including lowering risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
Despite the connection exercise has on health, most American adults fail to reach recommended exercise levels. In fact, up to 80% of adults don’t meet the recommended exercise guidelines.
Any exercise you enjoy can provide health benefit. Walking is promoted as an easy way to get more movement because it doesn’t cost a membership, you don’t need fancy equipment and most people can enjoy walking without putting major strain on the body.
A common recommendation for how much to walk per day is 10,000 steps which is based on research that primarily started in Japan.
Some research has shown an association between walking 10,000 steps per day and positive health benefits.
However, according to a 2017 TIME article (1), other research suggests closer to 15,000 steps may be better.
With some conflicting recommendations, how much should you really walk per day to stay healthy?
10,000 steps a day
The recommendation for 10,000 steps per day for overall health is relatively new to the US, but it has been a recommendation in Japan for over 30 years (2).
Walking 10,000 steps per day has been associated with positive health benefits such as lowered risk for certain chronic diseases and weight management.
Why does this amount of walking appear to offer health benefit?
In order to take 10,000 steps a day, you can’t spend most of your day sitting down. For example, people with minimal sitting, like postal workers or in rare, rural tribal communities, their average steps are at least around 10,000.
For people in a Western society with a typical sit down job, getting 5,000 steps per day can be a challenge.
How do you know how many steps you take?
You can know this by wearing a simple, cheap pedometer to using fancier fitness equipment or smart phone apps that track your movement and steps throughout the day.
How many miles are in 10,000 steps?
If you don’t have a pedometer or want to be tied to a fitness tracking device, you can still estimate how many steps or far you walk per day.
Based on an average stride for an adult, there are about 2,000 steps per mile. Therefore, recommendations to take 10,000 steps per day are basically to walk 5 miles a day.
Therefore, another way to think how much walking you should do per day to stay healthy may be up to 5 miles a day or more.
Does this mean if you don’t walk 5 miles a day there are not health benefits? No. Health experts agree the biggest benefit from walking, or doing other exercise, is just getting your body moving and limiting your time sitting down.
How many miles should you walk a day to stay healthy?
If you don’t do any intentional exercise and spend most of your time sitting, a first goal may be to start walking 5,000 steps or 2.5 miles per day.
Jumping from not intentionally walking at all to 10,000 steps per day is a big jump. Starting with a goal of 5,000 per day and working your way up may be best.
Once 5,000 steps per day is manageable, you can work up to a goal of 7,500 steps per day then 10,000 per day.
Keep in mind it is recommended to speak with your healthcare team before starting an exercise plan.
The recommended 10,000 steps or 5 miles a day recommendation may not be appropriate for all people.
Some populations such as the elderly or people with health complications may not be suited for 10,000 steps per day. Some people may benefit from MORE than 10,000 steps per day.
For example, a 2017 study found greatest health benefit in people who walked about 15,000 steps per day. Therefore, individual guidelines for walking recommendation per day can vary.
Important considerations are where your starting point is and other health considerations that need to be factored in for setting appropriate exercise goals.
Conclusion: how many miles should you walk a day to stay healthy?
First of all, any exercise can be beneficial. Walking is often focused on for exercise of choice because it can be done anywhere, it doesn’t take any special talent, equipment or cost. It can also be a way to enjoy some time outside in nature.
Walking is also considered moderate exercise meaning it can be sustained without leaving you feel breathless.
Most Americans do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise. Therefore, getting more steps in your day, or simply walking more, has been associated with some health benefit.
Some research suggests 10,000 steps per day (~5 miles) is the gold standard, other research suggests closer to 15,000 steps per day (~7.5 miles) is best for health benefit.
If you are starting from minimal movement in your day, jumping to 5 miles a day can seem like a tall order.
Health experts stress the most important consideration if you are sedentary is just getting more movement in and breaking up your time you spend sitting.
If you are sedentary, setting a goal of 5,000 steps per day (~2.5 miles) can be a good starting point. From there, you can work your way up to higher amount of walking per day.
If you want more of a challenge from walking, try increasing your pace for varying amounts of time.
Increasing your pace when you’re walking can have further cardiovascular benefit as well as increased muscle development.