Do you really need to take 10,000 steps for optimum health?

If you use a fitness tracker or a smartphone to keep track of your health goals, you know the magic number: 10,000 steps for optimum health. That cracks out to around 5 miles for the average person—which seems like a lot. So how did the fitness world land on this number? According to experts, they more or less chose it arbitrarily.

FUN FACT: The 10,000 steps per day metric was popularized in the mid-1960s, when a Japanese watch company debuted a pedometer called the Manpo-kei—the 10,000 Steps Meter. They may have chosen the number partly because the Japanese character for 10,000 resembles a person briskly walking: 万

The number of steps you really need to stay active—like all things health and wellness—depend on your body, your goals, and the rest of your lifestyle. Here are some loose guidelines to get you started.

YOUR GOAL: Supporting overall health

While 10,000 steps is a great goal, you can achieve similar health benefits by regularly walking half that amount. A study done by Harvard epidemiologist Dr. I-Min Lee showed that older women who walked 4,400 steps per day decreased their risk of death by 41% compared to those who walked under 2,700 steps per day.

YOUR GOAL: Losing weight and/or increasing fitness level

If your goal is boosting weight loss or physical fitness, 10,000 steps is a great goal to achieve a low-impact burn. Depending on your body composition and metabolism, adding an extra 10,000 steps per day can increase your weight loss by up to one pound per week (depending on factors like your current weight and overall health).

YOUR GOAL: Mindfulness and emotional calm

Regular exercise supports healthy mental and emotional balance, but strenuous exercise can increase stress hormones and disrupt emotional state. Aim for adding an additional 2,000 steps to whatever your normal routine may be. Taking a brisk walk first thing in the morning can help contribute to a positive mindset for the rest of the day, particularly if you’re able to get out in nature. Studies have shown outdoor exercise has a significant positive effect on mental health.