Walking 10,000 steps per day has been a benchmark health goal for a while. (Interesting fact: It originated as part of a marketing campaign for an early step counter leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and equates to walking about 5 miles). The average American gets far less than this—logging between 3,000 to 4,000 steps each day—and there’s some evidence that upping your daily strides can have some surprising benefits. Here are some of them.
Healthy Weight Loss
While a brisk stroll may not be as vigorous as high-intensity workouts like running or Spinning, it is an effective way to burn calories and support weight loss. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Obesity, walking 10,000 steps a day is associated with weight loss and management. Plus, it’s a low-impact exercise, making it accessible for all fitness levels. And it elevates your heart rate and activates muscles like your quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings, helping to burn calories and strengthen your lower body.
Walking is an easy way to increase your calorie burn without your body needing time and energy to recover,” says Rachel MacPherson, CPT, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews. “It’s not tiring and won’t cause fatigue on a diet. You can walk a lot during the day without feeling as beat up as you would with higher-intensity cardio. If you add walking to your day, you may find maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight to happen naturally without even noticing.”
Walking can have a positive impact on your joint health. When you hoof it, your body releases synovial fluid, which acts like engine oil to lubricate your joints and keep them moving smoothly, per a 2019 study published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Additionally, a 2021 study found that a regular walking routine helped boost physical performance and reduce knee joint pain in those with arthritis. If you have existing joint pain, engaging in regular low-impact exercise like walking can help relieve pain and prevent joint-related issues in the long run.
“Walking is a natural human movement that improves joint health without the impact of higher-intensity exercises like running, which can aggravate any joint issues you may have,” says MacPherson. “It helps increase circulation and joint fluid, keeping your tissues healthy and moving well.” So while it might be tempting to skip exercise if you have achy joints, walking can truly be beneficial. “When you don’t move enough, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments can become weak or tight in certain areas, especially if you sit a lot,” she adds.
Improved Mood and Brain Function
Engaging in any form of physical activity triggers the release of endorphins—feel-good chemicals that can boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. For additional benefits, getting your 10,000 steps outdoors in nature can significantly increase mental health and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a 2022 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. In addition, 2023 research published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports suggests that regular walking can improve cognitive function and memory.
“Walking 10,000 steps daily will help you feel more focused, sharp, and happier—leading to fewer feelings of physical tension, providing both mental and physical benefits,” says MacPherson.
Research published in Sports Medicine found that engaging in active recovery, or a cool-down, like leisurely walking after intense exercise or strength training can support recovery and promote blood flow to your muscles, helping to prevent muscle stiffness and allow your body to recover faster.
“Active recovery is a more leisurely workout that includes movement that won’t be strenuous enough to cause any further damage to your muscles and won’t require a lot of effort or nutritional demands to perform,” says MacPherson. “Walking 10,000 steps daily can improve your recovery so you are less likely to have sore muscles, and you will perform better during your next workout. Active recovery helps improve the overall recovery process by stimulating blood flow that brings nutrients to the tissues that need it most.”
The Bottom Line
Walking 10,000 steps daily offers a slew of physical and mental health benefits. For example, it can support healthy weight loss, improve joint health, boost mood and brain function and aid recovery. Also, walking is a low-impact exercise that’s accessible to most people. So, if you’re looking for an enjoyable and effective way to improve your fitness level and overall health, lace up those walking shoes and get your steps in!
Originally appeared: EatingWell.com, June 2023.
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