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Optimal number of daily steps is not necessarily 10,000

For years, we have been told that walking 10,000 daily steps is necessary for optimal health outcomes. However, that number is not based on science; it’s based on an old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer. 

Amanda Paluch is a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts, who set out to create evidence-based recommendations for daily steps. In collaboration with an international team of scientists, Paluch has formed the Steps for Health Collaborative. 

The researchers analyzed 15 studies to help determine how many steps a person should take to increase their chances of living a long, healthy life. Ultimately, the experts reviewed studies on 50,000 people across four continents. 

The team divided the participants into four groups to complete a meta-analysis based on their average daily steps. The lowest step group averaged 3,500 steps per day; the second averaged 5,800; the third averaged 7,800, and the fourth averaged 10,900 steps.

The experts found that the group with the three highest average step groups had a 40 to 53 percent lower risk of death than the group with the lowest average steps.

Overall, the analysis showed that taking more steps helped lower one’s risk of dying prematurely. However, one does not necessarily have to walk 10,000 steps to live longer. 

For adults 60 years and older, 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day were sufficient. After that, the benefits of walking leveled off, which means that more steps did not provide additional health benefits in terms of mortality. Adults under 60 saw stabilization at about 8,000 to 10,000 daily steps. 

“So, what we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off,” said Paluch. “And the leveling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults.”

The researchers also discovered that walking speed was not a determining factor in longevity. As long as a person walked a certain amount of steps, they were less likely to suffer premature death. This discovery is good news for public health advocates because it allows them to send a clear message, making recommendations easier for the public to implement. 

“Steps are very simple to track, and there is a rapid growth of fitness tracking devices,” said Paluch. “It’s such a clear communication tool for public health messaging.”

According to the researchers, the path to a healthier lifestyle is more accessible than we may think. Even if it’s not fast or excessive, moving is beneficial, especially for those who already do very little. 

This study was published in The Lancet Public Health.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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