A walking expert says walking 10,000 steps a day is 'irrelevant' if you’re not doing this one thing

A man walking
(Image credit: Shuitterstock / Aerogondo2)

Walking is a fun, low-cost way of upping your activity level. But research suggests your daily step count isn't the only factor to consider if you really want to reap the benefits. 

Even if you’re walking 10,000 steps a day, sports scientist and WalkActive founder Joanna Hall says it’s also important to pay attention to your cadence (or the number of steps you take per minute).

"The quantity of your steps is irrelevant if you’re not walking with the correct technique [using Hall’s four walking tips] and at the correct step rate," she says.

“Research has shown that there’s a minimum number of steps you need to do per minute to actually incur physiological health benefits. That number is 100 steps per minute.

“This figure of 100 steps a minute is the minimum threshold, and the range goes up to about 130. If you’re walking at about 125-128 steps per minute, that’s been shown to be equivalent to your body as if you were doing a light jog. 

“If you apply great technique and get smart with your cadence, you can turn your walk into a workout.”

A woman walking

(Image credit: Shuitterstock / Efired)

Of course, there are more than just physiological benefits to be gained from walking, as I found when I walked 10,000 steps a day for a year. But if it’s physical effects you’re after, science suggests Hall’s advice is worth bearing in mind.

The referenced research is a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It found that walking with a cadence of 100 steps per minute or above “represents a reasonable floor value” for moderate-intensity physical activity. 

This is important as, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week “for substantial benefits”. 

However, no-one wants to be constantly counting their steps while out on an otherwise enjoyable walk. And unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to get data cadence data in real-time from the best Garmin watch or the best Apple watch – I even went so far as to download a metronome app, which proved ineffective and annoying in equal measure.

But there are other ways to measure exercise intensity during your workouts using one of the best fitness trackers, with heart rate proving the simplest to use for me. 

An article from Concordia University states that a moderate-intensity activity should raise your heart rate to 50-70% of its maximum (subtracting your age from 220 will give you a good estimate of your maximum heart rate). 

Any wearable worthy of the name will give you your heart rate live on your wrist as you wrack up the miles, and you can use this to determine whether or not your walk is providing an effective workout. 

What are the benefits of walking?

Sports scientist Joanna Hall mentions the physiological benefits that walking can bring. But what exactly does that mean? 

“If you look at health, the evidence suggests benefits would include managing your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, hypertension, and all-risk mortality, as well as cardiovascular disease reduction,” she says. 

A 2023 meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, which looked at 17 studies covering 226,889 participants, reinforces the cardiovascular benefits.

It found that higher daily step counts were strongly linked to a reduction in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Walking is also a weight-bearing exercise, with the Harvard Medical School saying it can help keep your lower-body bones strong to reduce your risk of injury – although it won't be as effective as a high-impact activity, or a comprehensive strength training plan. 

It also recruits the largest muscles in your legs, including the glutes in your backside, quadriceps on the front of the thigh, and hamstrings on the back of the thigh, boosting energy expenditure. Twinned with an appropriate diet, this can assist with weight loss goals. 

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Harry Bullmore
Fitness & Wearables writer

Harry is a huge fan of picking things up, putting them down again and writing about it, which uniquely qualifies him for the position of fitness and wearables writer with TechRadar. 

He’s an NCTJ-qualified journalist with a degree in English and journalism and several years’ experience covering the health and fitness beat. This has involved writing for the likes of Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Fit&Well, Live Science and Coach. 

Harry is passionate about all things exercise-related, having spent more than a decade experimenting with a wide range of training styles. He's used strength training, bodybuilding, Pilates, powerlifting, gymnastics, rowing, yoga, running, calisthenics, CrossFit and more to build a fit, functional body (and have fun while doing it). 

When he’s not writing or training, he can usually be found racing his dog Archie up scenic hills in the south west of England or working to complete his NASM-certified personal trainer qualification.