Senior Couple Walking Through Autumn Woodland

Senior couple walking through a park. (© Monkey Business -

AMHERST, Mass. — We’re often told that walking 10,000 steps every day is the key to a long, healthy life. But is that really the case for everyone? Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst calculated the number of daily steps needed for a long life. They say the benchmark really depends on your age.

With smartphone and wearable technology now carrying step sensors, more and more people are keeping an eye on how many steps a day they are logging. Number crunchers looked at data from 15 studies involving nearly 50,000 people from four continents. They say the commonly-used 10,000-steps-a-day mantra grew out of a decades-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer — with no science to back up the impact on health.

So, they set out to find what the right number of steps really is.

Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist assistant professor at the university, says the results show that taking more steps a day does indeed help lower the risk of premature death. But in adults over 60, that risk levels off at about 6,000-8,000 steps per day. In fact, the authors report more steps beyond that mark have no added benefit on longevity.

For the under-60s, the optimum number increases to 8,000-10,000 steps per day.

“What we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off and the levelling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults,” Paluch says in a statement. “Interestingly, the research found no definitive association with walking speed, beyond the total number of steps per day.”

Tracking daily steps really can lead to a longer life

The new research supports and expands findings from another study published last September in JAMA Network Open, which concludes that walking at least 7,000 steps a day reduces risk of premature death in middle-aged adults.

Study authors combined the evidence from the studies that investigated the effect of daily steps on all-cause mortality among adults age 18 and older. They grouped the nearly 50,000 participants into four comparative groups according to average steps per day. The lowest step group averaged 3,500 steps; the second, 5,800; the third, 7,800; and the fourth, 10,900 steps per day.

Among the three higher active groups who got more steps a day, there was a 40%-53% lower risk of death, compared to the lowest quartile group who walked fewer steps.

“Steps are very simple to track, and there is a rapid growth of fitness tracking devices,” says Paluch. “It’s such a clear communication tool for public health messaging. The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity. More steps per day are better for your health.”

The study is published in the journal Lancet Public Health.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

Want more? Read these top tips on how to live longer.

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