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New Study: 10,000 steps is not the magical number
10,000 steps. The gold standard. The magical number we aim to reach daily and perhaps beat ourselves up over when we don’t. It turns out, this number is not based on scientific research.1 The origin most likely comes from a 1965 Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer called “Manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter.”1 In truth, taking as few as 4,000 daily steps provides health benefits that lead to lower risk of death.2
Published in the August 2023 European Journal of Preventative Cardiology,2 this evidence comes from findings of 17 studies that looked at the benefits associated with the step counts of over 226,000 generally healthy people from Australia, Japan, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. over a span of seven years. While this is not the first study to offer such evidence, its huge sample size and extended time span have garnered attention.
Key findings of this report apply to both men and women, regardless of age or region of residence, and show that walking at least 3,967 steps a day can begin to reduce risk of dying from any cause, and 2,337 steps a day can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.2 It further confirms that the more one walks, the greater the health benefit; every 1,000 extra steps taken per day is associated with a 15% reduction in overall risk of death.2
Lack of physical activity is the fourth most frequent cause of death in the world.3 COVID-19’s lockdowns led to a significant decrease in steps, that have still not returned to pre-pandemic numbers. Even minimal activity provides huge benefits, and for many, the simplest and easiest activity to fit into the day is walking.
What this means for you:
Adding even a small number of steps to your day can improve your health.
- Focus less on hitting a certain number of steps and more on simply taking the steps. While the suggestion is to aim for approximately 4,000, it is better to take some steps, than none.
- Don’t be as concerned with the intensity of your walking. For the overall reduction of mortality risk, research has shown that what really matters is the number of daily steps taken, not necessarily the intensity or briskness of those steps.4
- Break up your steps throughout the day. For example, walking your dog, going to and from the car, getting up from your desk to go into a different room, and taking the stairs all count towards your total step intake and will add up.
- Make walks part of your social activity; schedule a walk with a friend or colleague.
In addition to lowering overall risk of death and improving heart health, research has shown that walking can reduce the risk of cancer,5 diabetes,6 and dementia.7 It also offers mental health benefits, including boosting mood and improving sleep,8 and walking outdoors or with a friend can enhance these benefits even more.
- Lee, I.-M. et al. Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Intern. Med. 179, 1105–1112 (2019).
- Banach, M. et al. The association between daily step count and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a meta-analysis. Eur. J. Prev. Cardiol. zwad229 (2023) doi:10.1093/eurjpc/zwad229.
- Indicator Metadata Registry Details. https://www.who.int/data/gho/indicator-metadata-registry/imr-details/3416.
- Paluch, A. E. et al. Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts. Lancet Public Health 7, e219–e228 (2022).
- Moore, S. C. et al. Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Intern. Med. 176, 816–825 (2016).
- Tudor-Locke, C. & Schuna, J. M. Steps to Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Exercise, Walk More, or Sit Less? Front. Endocrinol. 3, 142 (2012).
- del Pozo Cruz, B., Ahmadi, M., Naismith, S. L. & Stamatakis, E. Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78 430 Adults Living in the UK. JAMA Neurol. 79, 1059–1063 (2022).
- Sharma, A., Madaan, V. & Petty, F. D. Exercise for Mental Health. Prim. Care Companion J. Clin. Psychiatry 8, 106 (2006).