Researchers say old step-count theory has ‘no basis in science,’ suggesting the pace in which you walk also plays a key role.
GRANADA, Spain — How many steps do you need to take every day for a longer, healthier life? Many abide by the long-running conclusion that it’s 10,000 steps, but a new study debunks this popular myth. Researchers from the University of Granada, in collaboration with other international institutions, believe they’ve found the final answer once and for all. Their study demonstrates that the optimal number of daily steps for significant health gains is actually around 8,000, equivalent to walking approximately 6.4 kilometers, considering the average human stride.
The magic “10,000 steps a day” formula originated in Japan in the 1960s and, as lead author Professor Francisco B. Ortega explained, “had no basis in science.” It was more a marketing strategy for a new pedometer than a health standard grounded in research. This new study doesn’t merely rectify the question of how many daily steps you need, but adds a fascinating twist: the pace at which you walk matters. Fast walkers reap additional health rewards, especially concerning the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk, where the most significant benefits were observed at around 7,000 steps.
What does this mean for the average person? Essentially, it’s not about piling on the steps but rather adopting a more brisk walking habit and aiming for a feasible target, especially for those whose current physical activity levels are low. The researchers emphasize the notion of progression, where “every additional 500 steps improves their health.”
“Not everyone can walk almost 9,000 steps a day, at least not at first, so you can set small, reachable goals and gradually make progress,” the research team notes, suggesting an approach that’s less daunting and more tailored to individual capabilities.
10,000 daily steps is fine, but ‘differences in risk reduction are small’
This comprehensive study wasn’t a small-scale endeavor. The team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of twelve international studies, encompassing over 110,000 participants, to arrive at these figures. Esmée Bakker, a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Granada and a lead author of the study, underscores the uniqueness of their work: “What makes our study different is that, for the first time, we set clear step targets.”
While the study advocates for the benefits of increasing daily steps, it doesn’t set an upper limit. Professor Francisco B. Ortega clarifies in a statement, “More steps are never bad. Our study showed that even as many as 16,000 steps a day does not pose a risk; on the contrary, there are additional benefits compared to walking 7,000-9,000 steps a day, but the differences in risk reduction are small.”
However, Ortega stresses the importance of age-appropriate targets and acknowledges that the study’s focus was primarily on reducing risk of earlier death, specifically from heart issues. Physical activity’s broad spectrum benefits, including enhancing mental health and sleep quality, require an inclusive approach beyond just counting steps.
In a world where most adults struggle with incorporating the advised 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise into their weekly routine, often due to confusion about what qualifies as “moderate’ exercise,” this research provides a tangible solution. With the widespread use of smartphones and fitness trackers, monitoring daily steps becomes a practical, accessible fitness goal.
“Our study gives people clear and easily measurable goals,” Bakker concludes, highlighting the research’s potential impact on public health. By simplifying health guidelines to a concrete daily step count, the study encourages more people to engage in physical activity, contributing positively to global health and wellness trends.
This latest research is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.