How Many Steps Should I Take Each Day? A Cardiologist Answers

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Keeping track of your daily steps is a handy way to track whether or not you were active in a given day. But it might be time to nix the rigidness when it comes to considering just how many you took. No, we don’t mean throw away the step counter altogether, but according to Michael Weinrauch, MD, the chairman of cardiology at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, it’s not the end-all-be-all. What’s more important than the number is the movement itself.

“There is this magic number we always hear of 10,000 steps a day as a target and that is a nice goal,” says Dr. Weinrauch. But it’s not the first thing he takes into consideration with each patient.

First, he recommends patients take a week or so with their new step counter to get a sense of their present fitness level. “Spend the first week learning what your steps are so you get a baseline. If you’re already a super active person, 10,000 steps might be more than achievable,” he says. “But if step counting is meant to help get your fitness going or get it in check, it can be a bit unobtainable to start with such a lofty goal.” You should figure out what step count you’re able to achieve every single day—consistently—and that’s your starting place.

Once you’ve established that baseline, begin with making .your goal to tackle an additional 1,000 steps consistently. Then, add 2,000 more and so on. “It is such an individualized thing and really depends on the person,” he explains. Rather than focusing on the overall step goal, Dr. Weinrauch would prefer to see his patients strive for 30 or 45 minutes of walking at a brisk pace most days a week. He describes brisk as moderate exertion that changes your breathing rate, but you are still able to carry on a conversation.

Looking for a mileage goal? Think again. Dr. Weinrauch says it’s more important to focus on the amount of time you’re actively moving each day. “In the beginning, you may only be able to briskly walk a mile in 30 minutes and that’s okay,” he says. “For the average person, a 20-minute mile is a good pace to keep.”

However, at the end of the day, if the step counter keeps you moving and is a motivator, Dr. Weinrauch says to keep it up. In fact, a study by John Hopkins Medicine found that the consistent use of fitness trackers can increase steps taken per day by more than a mile. “If the watch helps you get there, the watch is helpful,” he says. Just don’t sweat the 10,000 marker all the time.

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