Turns out you don’t have to walk 10,000 steps daily to start reaping health benefits. Less than half will do the trick.
People who walk at least 4,000 steps a day can substantially lower their risk of death from any cause, a meta analysis of 17 studies with 226,000 participants around the world indicated. The subjects “were generally healthy when they entered the studies analyzed.”
For cardiovascular mortality, the bar is even lower. Just over 2,300 steps will benefit the heart and blood vessels, the researchers from the Medical University of Lodz in Poland and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US found.
This sprawling study adds to growing literature that 10,000 steps is no magic number. A Japanese study earlier this year said 5,000 to 7,000 steps was enough to help people live longer. In 2021, a study conducted across four US states said health benefits at 7,000 steps mirrored those at 10,000.
Of course, none of this is meant to discourage walking longer, as it’s among the best preventive activities one can engage in. The number of advanced drugs for treatment of illnesses is growing, but prevention is the best treatment, said one of the study’s lead. “We should always emphasise that lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which was a main hero of our analysis, might be at least as, or even more, effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and prolonging lives,” Lodz university professor Maciej Banach told the BBC.
Those aged under 60 reap the biggest benefits from increasing light physical activity such as walking.
Older adults who walked 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day clocked a 42% reduction in their risk of death. Those under 60 years of age who walked 7,000 to 13,000 steps per day, saw a 49% decrease in mortality.
On trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone, the default step tracker recommendation is set to 10,000 steps. Some time ago, even the US National Institutes for Health considered it an “active” goal to reach. But it’s no magic health number—it was basically a marketing strategy!
The origin of the arbitrary numeral goalpost can be traced back to a Japanese walking club. In 1965, a pedometer—or step tracker—was launched in Japan in 1965 by the Yamasa Corporation, with the slogan ”manpokei,” which literally translates to “10,000 step meter.” And it stuck.
By all means, do. It does no harm. In fact, the more steps you rack up, the more health benefits.
After 4,000 steps, every 1000-step increment was associated with 15% decreased risk of all-cause mortality, according to the Lodz-John Hopkins study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. And for every additional 500 steps walked, the risk of death associated with cardiovascular disease declined by 7%.
“Walking more can boost your mental health. Walking is bilateral stimulation, which is the base of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). Increasing your step count can also help reduce trauma memories, especially if you think about them while walking. It can bring down your stress levels as well.”
—Aanchal Narang, psychologist and founder of Another Light Counselling, quoted in GQ in May 2023
150-300 minutes: How much “moderate-intensity physical activity” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for an adult per week. Or they can do 75-150 minutes of “vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.” In addition, it urges people to do two or more days of muscle strengthening activity. Considering insufficient physical activity is the fourth-leading cause of death in the world, it may be time to put the CDC’s advice into action, if you haven’t already.