Forget 10,000 Steps A Day. Less Than Half Of That Goal Could Be Enough To Help You Live Longer, Experts Say

Fortune Well August 12, 2023


Forget 10,000 Steps A Day. Less Than Half Of That Goal Could Be Enough To Help You Live Longer, Experts Say

Dancing, swimming laps at a pool, and skipping the cart on the golf course are easy, fun ways to get your steps in—and maybe even extend your life. Though the popular advice is to aim for 10,000 steps a day for health benefits, research released in March points to the protective effect of just 8,000.

Even newer research released today points to the life-saving benefit of a mere 1,000 and even 500-step increments, though 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce the chance of death, researchers say.

The latest research, published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, examined data from 17 studies, with a total of 226,889 participants. While more steps are always better, researchers found that every 500 daily steps taken were associated with a 7% decreased risk of death from cardiovascular causes and that every 1,000 daily steps taken were associated with a 15% decreased risk of death from all causes. Significant reduction in all-cause mortality was seen at 4,000 steps, and even 2,500 steps per day provided considerable health benefits.

Those who take less than 5,000 steps per day have a sedentary lifestyle, according to the study’s authors, who referred to such a lifestyle as “the disease of the 21st century.”


Different studies, different opinions

People who walked 8,000 or more steps even one day a week were less likely to die over a 10-year period than those who did not, according to a study published in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open.

Among 3,000-plus participants, those who took at least 8,000 steps one or two days a week were 14.9% less likely to die over a 10-year period than those who did not. People who took 8,000 or more steps three to seven days a week were 16.5% less likely to die over the same period, according to the paper.

The protective effect of 8,000 daily steps plateaued at three days a week, the authors found.


The COVID-19 pandemic sent daily steps plummeting

The research comes as scientists begin to realize the full weight of the pandemic in terms of long-lasting health effects on society. The number of steps people take each day plummeted during the early days of COVID-19—and they’ve yet to recover, according to a study released last week in the same journal.

Researchers with Vanderbilt University examined the daily step patterns of nearly 5,500 people for two years before the pandemic and nearly two years into it. They found that, on average, study participants took about 700 fewer steps per day after the pandemic—equivalent to about a third of a mile less each day.

Pre-pandemic steps were around 7,808 a day. Steps after COVID hovered around 7,089.

The trend continued even after most pandemic restrictions were relaxed, researchers noted. Their findings “suggest a consistent, widespread, and significant decline in activity following the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S.”—and it appears to be a long-term trend, they added.

People of lower socioeconomic status and those who reported worsening mental health during the pandemic were at the highest risk of reduced physical activity, according to the authors.

With steps trending lower, researchers are unsure exactly what the long-term health toll will be. Previous research, however, suggests the drop could make a “substantial contribution to long-term disease risk”—especially in terms of cardiometabolic health, and especially among those who are poor and/or live with mental health challenges, they wrote.


How to add more steps into your day

Here are some easy ways to sneak extra steps into your day, according to the American on the Move Foundation:

• Walk to get the mail, and circle around the block an extra time when you do.

• Chat about the day with loved ones on an after-dinner walk.

• Take an energizing stroll before your morning commute.

• Start an office walking club.

• Volunteer to walk dogs for an animal shelter.

• Take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator.

• Exit the bus a couple of stops early and walk the rest of the way.

• Play a round of golf, minus the cart.

• Swim laps at a pool (this counts too!).

• Go dancing at a club.

• Join a volleyball team, indoor or outdoor.

• Pick up a tennis match.

• Go ice skating at a local rink.

• Park as far away as you can in parking lots.

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