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What’s So Special About 10,000 Steps? Spoiler Alert!

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Have you been more sedentary since the pandemic and want to get back into walking? Should you diligently track your steps to reach or exceed 10,000 steps? Or is it OK to simply enjoy the scenery and be in nature? What is so special about 10,000 steps per day? Sorry to burst your fitness bubble. In all honestly, the 10,000-steps-a-day mantra grew out of a decades-old marketing campaign to sell Japanese pedometers, with absolutely no science to back up the impact on health.

This most recent study came from actual researchers, not marketers. It was led by University of Massachusetts Amherst physical activity epidemiologist Amanda Paluch and an international group of scientists who formed the Steps for Health Collaborative and found that taking more steps a day helps lower the risk of premature death.

How Many Walking Steps Per Day is Ideal?

The new study sheds light on just how many steps are necessary to show health benefits. In this analysis of nearly 50,000 people from four continents, the researchers looked at whether the health benefits of a specific number of steps is different for people of different ages.

How Many Steps Per Day Is Ideal?

Here is what they found:

  • For adults 60 and older, the risk of premature death leveled off at about 6,000-8,000 steps per day, meaning that more steps than that provided no additional benefit for longevity.
  • Adults younger than 60 saw the risk of premature death stabilize at about 8,000-10,000 steps per day.
  • Among the three higher active groups who got more steps a day, there was a 40-53% lower risk of death, compared to the lowest group who walked fewer steps.

How fast should you walk? It doesn’t really matter. The research found no definitive association with walking speed, beyond the total number of steps per day, Paluch says. Getting in your steps, regardless of the pace at which you walked them, was the link to a lower risk of death.

Paluch’s research supports and expands findings from another study, published last September in JAMA Network Open, which found that walking at least 7,000 steps a day reduced middle-aged people’s risk of premature death. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, updated in 2018, recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.

“The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity,” Paluch says. “More steps per day are better for your health. And the benefit in terms of mortality risk levels off around 6,000 to 8,000 for older adults and 8,000 to 10,000 for younger adults.”

Source: Amanda E Paluch, Shivangi Bajpai, et al. Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts. The Lancet Public Health, 2022; 7 (3): e219 DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(21)00302-9

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