10,000 steps a day is key to better health — but so is how fast you’re walking

SYDNEY — Millions of fitness-centric individuals aim to walk 10,000 steps each day to help lower their chances for serious health problems. Scientists now say that the speed at which they’re walking may be just as important as hitting the number alone.

Walking five miles daily, or about 10,000 steps in a 24-hour period, has long been tied to a litany of positive health benefits, including the avoidance of cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease and even sudden death. But two studies from researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Southern Denmark reveal that a faster pace akin to “power walking” should be viewed as equally as important during such exercise. The researchers said much is still unknown about the added benefits of walking faster (described as a “higher intensity cadence”) even though countless studies have connected 10,000 daily steps to tremendous health benefits.

Hitting 10,000 daily steps remains important to one’s long-term health, the authors write, but a faster pace of walking can achieve similar results in as few as 3,800 steps each day.

“The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day, but also aim to walk faster,” says study co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center and Faculty of Medicine and Health, in a statement.

Faster walking pace can have impact on ‘all outcomes’ related to health

In the study of more than 78,500 U.K. adults, a quicker speed of walking was associated with the avoidance of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death “over and above [the value of one’s] total daily steps,” the researchers wrote in a Monday release. The study participants, all of whom were between the ages of 40 to 79 years of age, wore wrist accelerometers to measure their physical activity.

The study authors noted that a higher stepping intensity showed preventive health care benefits for “all outcomes,” ranging from dementia to heart disease.

Every 2,000 steps each person took lowered their risk of premature death incrementally by 8 to eleven percent, up to about 10,000 daily steps. The study found 9,800 steps was the “optimal dose linked to lower risk of dementia” by about 50 percent. But the authors note that was reduced by 25 percent at as low as 3,800 steps per day.

“The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers makes it the most robust evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot for health benefits and walking faster is associated with additional benefits,” said Dr Matthew Ahmadi.

This latest study interwove daily step counts and exercise intensity along with mortality and diagnosis rates for cancer and cardiovascular disease. The co-authors said they hope this research will lead to more step-based physical activity guidelines and to develop more effective public health programs which target the prevention of chronic diseases.

“For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3,800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25 percent,” explained co-lead author Associate Professor Borja del Pozo Cruz from the University of Southern Denmark and senior researcher in health at the University of Cadiz.

The studies are published in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology.


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About the Author

Benjamin Fearnow

Mr. Fearnow has written for Newsweek, The Atlantic & CBS during his New York City-based journalism career. He discusses tech and social media topics on cable news networks.

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  1. obviously speed is way more important than number of steps — the number is just an ad gimmick from Japan, a pedometer called 10,000 — 9500 or 10,824 steps makes zero difference

    puttering around the mall is not exercise even if you waste 3 hours doing it

    common sense – no effort means no exercise

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