How many steps should you take every day to improve your health?

14th June 2024
Three women in gym clothes walking over a bridge

How many times have you told yourself that you need to do more exercise, started a new routine, and then stopped it altogether after a few weeks as you just don’t have the time?

This cycle of wanting to get healthy, trying your hardest, and then being put off by the physical and time demands, is an unfortunate reality for many.

But the truth is, it doesn’t take much effort to make a big difference, and one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise is actually one of the best: walking.

A new study has revealed that just a few thousand steps a day can have a dramatic effect on your health, and could significantly reduce your risk level for many serious conditions.

Read on to find out how many steps a day you should take to improve your health and what you can do to reach that target.

Research suggests that every step above 2,200 a day could have health benefits

Research reported by the Guardian suggests that every daily step you take above 2,200, up to around 10,500, reduces your risk of strokes, heart disease, and premature death, even if you spend the rest of the day seated.

If that sounds like a lot to you, then you may be surprised to hear that the average person can walk around 1,000 steps in just 10 minutes.

Researchers analysed data from the UK Biobank of more than 70,000 people aged around 61. They measured the participants’ daily activity using an accelerometer and then followed up seven years later to record how many deaths or cardiovascular events there had been.

The study found that the lowest risk of heart disease and stroke was among people who walked around 9,700 steps a day. The risk of early death was lowest among people who took between 9,000 and 10,500 steps a day.

The study concluded that walking between 9,000 and 10,500 steps a day reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke by over a fifth and cut the risk of early death by 39%.

But the results also revealed that any number of steps above 2,200 a day was linked to lower early death rates, heart disease, and stroke, but the benefits increased the more steps people took, before levelling off at around 10,500.

So, any daily step counts you record above 2,200 will benefit your overall health.

You can use your phone as a pedometer to count your steps

Most modern smartphones will have an inbuilt pedometer, but if yours doesn’t you can also download a pedometer app.

Some apps can also measure your walking speed, which should be around 3 miles (5 kilometres) an hour.

Alternatively, you can check your pace by watching your breath. At the recommended walking speed, most people should be able to talk comfortably but might struggle to sing the words to a song.

After a few days, weeks, or months, of measuring your daily steps, check what you are averaging.

If you are averaging above 9,000, you can give yourself a big pat on the back!

If you are above 2,200, but below 9,000, then you are in a great position to push yourself just a bit more to get up to the recommended step count.

If your step count is below 2,200, then don’t worry. As you will see, finding small ways to boost your daily steps is simple and can be done by taking only a few minutes of your time a day.

Start small and build more walking into your life

If you want to increase your step count, then try to build your daily steps gradually by adding more activity to your routine.

What you can do will depend on how much free time you have, but examples include:

  • Walking some of your journey to work
  • Walking in your house while doing other routine activities, such as brushing your teeth
  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift
  • Walking instead of using a car or bus for short journeys
  • Walking your children or grandchildren to school
  • Doing a regular morning or evening walk
  • Going for a short walk after meals
  • Buying an under-desk treadmill so you can walk while working.

Once you start counting your daily steps, you will be surprised at just how much difference these habits can make.

Exercise or walking apps can be a great way to track your progress. Some even have features that allow you to set yourself targets and give recommendations on how to achieve them.

You can make walking fun by combining it with other activities

One of the best benefits of walking compared with other forms of exercise is that it can be easily combined with other activities.

You can listen to music and audiobooks, study, or even learn a new language while walking. If you’re busy with work, you could also use your walking time to make calls or listen to messages.

Walking can also be a social activity and walking with others is a great way to ensure you stay motivated.

Social walking could include finding a dog walking group or joining your local rambling organisation.

However you choose to do it, building in a bit of extra time into your daily or weekly routine for walking is a simple, accessible, and effective way of keeping healthy and reducing your risk of illness.