While the mantra for years was for adults to walk 10,000 steps daily, researchers are proposing a new, lower number.
Walking at least 7,000 steps per day reduced risk of premature death from all causes for middle-aged people by 50% to 70%, compared to other middle-aged people who took fewer daily steps, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Walking 10,000 steps or more per day did not reduce the risk further, lead author Amanda Paluch and physical activity epidemiologist at the university said.
“The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, highlight the evolving efforts to establish evidence-based guidelines for simple, accessible physical activity that benefits health and longevity, such as walking,” a university press release read. “The oft-advised 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.”
So Paluch and colleagues set out to answer how many steps are needed per day for health benefits.
“That would be great to know for a public health message or for clinician-patient communication,” she said.
To conduct the research, UMass used data from an ongoing study by Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) which began in 1985 that reviewed around 2,100 participants between 38 and 50-years-old.
The participants were separated into three comparison groups: low-step volume, under 7,000 steps per day, moderate, between 7,000-9,999 steps, and high, more than 10,000 steps.
“You see this gradual risk reduction in mortality as you get more steps,” Paluch said in the release. “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 added. “And from 5,000 to 6,000 steps, there is an incremental risk reduction in all-cause mortality up to about 10,000 steps.”
The findings can begin to suggest some methods of staying healthier for longer as well as help avoid premature death.
“Preventing those deaths before average life expectancy – that 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 reviewed an equal number of women and men and Black and white participants, according to the release.
Death rates for people walking at least 7,000 steps per day were lowest among women and Black participants. However, there was a limited sample of people who died, and Paluch noted that researchers need to study larger and more diverse populations to fully understand the statistically significant gender and race differences.
Paluch said she is eager to continue researching the impact of steps per day on health, according to the release, and how walking can be beneficial in different ways depending on life stages.
“We looked at just one outcome here – all-cause deaths,” she said. “The association could look different depending on your outcome of interest.”