Forget 10,000 steps — researchers say this is way more important

Woman walking briskly outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The great thing about walking is you don’t need any equipment, you can do it anywhere and it's totally free. That makes it an ideal method for adding movement into your day. But if you’re walking to boost your fitness, researchers have found your pace is more important than step count.

Although the best fitness trackers will encourage you to hit 10,000 steps each day, this number isn’t based on any studies. Instead, seems to have originated from a 1960s marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer known as the Manpo-Kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.”

If the target helps boost your motivation to step outside, then it’s no bad thing, but you don’t actually have to hit that goal to see health and fitness benefits. According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts, aiming for a pace of 100 steps per minute could be more important.

The team reviewed previous studies, with the results published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and found that a cadence (pace) of 100 steps/minute could be classified as moderate-intensity exercise to boost your fitness and raise your heart rate.

Of course, you don’t have to use walking as your main form of cardio exercise, but, according to the current U.S. Department for Health and Human Services guidelines, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity spread throughout the week.

Woman going for a walking workout in nature wearing activewear

(Image credit: Getty images)

So, while you don’t have to ditch your calm mindful walks, increasing the pace every so often can help you hit the recommended weekly targets, especially if you’re not a fan of running or other aerobic exercise and prefer taking a stroll instead.

Although 100 steps per minute is an easy-to-remember target, it’s not quite as straightforward to measure with a fitness tracker or smartwatch. Most wearables translate your pace into miles per hour, using your cadence and distance to assign an average pace.

So, in reality, you want to aim to walk briskly at a pace that makes you feel like you’re exercising rather than taking a casual walk and at a speed that’ll increase your heart rate. This way, even if you’re not using a tracker, you can still get a sense of the intensity of your walk.

But it’s also important to vary your activity. The government guidelines also suggest that you should do “muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.”

This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym several times a week, though. Instead, you could invest in a set of adjustable dumbbells and a kettlebell, and use high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) workouts to work your muscles and raise your heart rate for an extra cardio boost.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym. Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones. He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.