How many step should you be taking a day? We’ve heard 10 000 daily steps being widely promoted, but a new study suggests that logging even 7 000 may go a long way towards better health.
According to the findings of a report published in JAMA Network Open, middle-aged people who walked 7 000 steps daily were 50 to 70% less likely to die prematurely of any cause over the next decade compared to those who took fewer steps.
The findings highlight the evolving efforts to establish evidence-based guidelines for simple, accessible physical activity, such as walking, that benefits health and longevity.
Walking more than 10 000 steps per day, or walking faster, did not further reduce the risk, lead author Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, noted.
One question Paluch and colleagues wanted to begin to answer was: How many steps per day do we need for health benefits?
“That would be great to know for a public health message or for clinician-patient communication,” she says.
10 000 or bust?
Paulch, who is also an assistant professor of kinesiology in the school of public health and health sciences, says that 10 000 steps a day is not a scientifically established guideline but emerged as part of a decades-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer.
“You see this gradual risk reduction in mortality as you get more steps.”
“There were substantial health benefits between 7 000 and 10 000 steps but we didn’t see an additional benefit from going beyond 10 000 steps.
“For people at 4 000 steps, getting to 5 000 is meaningful,” she adds. “And from 5 000 to 6 000, there is an incremental risk reduction in all-cause mortality up to about 10 000 steps.”
Walking to prevent premature death
The findings also suggest ways to keep people healthier longer and to avoid premature death, as some of the participants experienced.
“Preventing those deaths before average life expectancy is a big deal,” Paluch says.
“Showing that steps per day could be associated with premature mortality is a new contribution to the field.”
The study also featured an equal number of men and women and black and white participants.
Death rates for people walking at least 7 000 steps per day were lowest among women and black people, compared to their peers. But there was a limited sample of people who died, and Paluch cautions that researchers need to study larger diverse populations to gauge statistically significant sex and race differences.
Paluch is eager to continue researching the impact of steps per day on health and how walking may be beneficial in a variety of ways at different life stages.
“We looked at just one outcome here: all-cause deaths,” she says. “The association could look different depending on your outcome of interest.”