Forget 10,000 Steps. Here’s How Much Science Says You Actually Need to Walk

3 minute read

Walking just 4,000 steps per day—less than half of the 10,000 steps often recommended for maintaining an active lifestyle—may be enough to help extend your life, according to a new research review published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

That takeaway shouldn’t dissuade anyone from taking a longer stroll; the researchers found that more movement is better, with each additional 1,000 steps per day associated with a roughly 15% lower risk of premature death. But it joins a growing body of research that suggests workouts don’t need to be all that grueling or lengthy to improve your health. Everything from walking to housework to dancing can contribute to well-being, studies have shown.

To reach the new findings, a team of researchers analyzed 17 previously published papers on walking and health, as steps taken per day is a commonly studied measure of physical activity. Cumulatively, those studies included more than 225,000 adults from multiple countries with an average age of 64, some of whom were in generally good health and some of whom had risk factors for cardiovascular disease. On average, they were tracked for seven years.

Read More: 9 Ways to Squeeze in More Steps Each Day

After analyzing the data from those studies, the researchers determined that mortality risk progressively declines as people walk more. They didn’t find a point at which additional activity stops appearing beneficial, all the way up to 20,000 steps per day.

But, in keeping with previous research, they also concluded that it doesn’t take a massive number of daily steps to improve health. The risk of dying from any cause began to significantly decline once study participants passed a threshold of around 4,000 steps per day (the equivalent of roughly two miles). The threshold was even lower—around 2,500 steps per day—when looking specifically at the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

These trends stayed fairly constant across different geographic locations, as well as when comparing men and women, the researchers found. There were, however, some differences among people of different ages. Adults older than 60 saw about a 42% drop in mortality risk when they walked between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day, while those younger than 60 saw a roughly 49% reduction when they walked between 7,000 and 13,000 steps per day.

There are some caveats to the findings. For one, observational research of this nature can uncover patterns, but it can’t definitively prove cause and effect. The researchers also weren’t able to fully account for participants’ socioeconomic statuses or overall lifestyles, which means daily steps were just one piece of a larger puzzle. It’s possible, for example, that the people who were most active also had a number of other healthy habits that could contribute to a longer lifespan.

Nonetheless, the new research joins plenty of other studies—and U.S. federal physical activity guidelines—in the same conclusion: more movement is almost always better, but a small amount is also better than nothing.

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