Do you often find it hard to hit the 10,000 steps per day that’s been recommended as the best way to keep yourself healthy? Maybe you surpass it and it’s not hard for you to meet that goal with an active job, but how many steps per day does it really take to keep healthy? Scientists are rethinking exactly how many steps that should be.
If you ask someone why they’re working so hard to meet a 10k step per day goal, they’ll likely say they heard it was the right amount to ward off illness and support their overall wellness, or their activity-tracking watch told them. It’s been the recommended amount of daily activity per day for a few years now, so it must have a scientific basis, right? You may be surprised to know that it originated in a marketing campaign to sell a pedometer.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst investigated how sound this tribal knowledge really was by analyzing results from a large study that’s been going on since 1985. The CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study has followed over two-thousand adults (considered middle aged at 38-50 years old) who wore a device which measured their steps for a year and followed up with them 11 years later to differentiate their health based on their physical activity levels.
These participants were classified into three groups based on the number of steps taken: 7,000 steps daily (the low group), 7-9,999 steps (moderate group), and more than 10,000 steps (high group). The researchers found the sweet spot for health benefits was within the moderate group who took between 7,000 and 10,000 steps a day—but venturing beyond the 10k mark didn’t result in any more impressive benefits.
On the low end, just getting between 4k-5k steps was helpful for overall health, and from 5k-6k there was a significant boost in health benefits that continued up until the 10k mark. Taking 7,000 steps reduced the risk of mortality by 50-70% in middle aged adults versus adults who had less daily activity.
This study focused on all-cause mortality risk and noted that it had an equal number of both men and women and was careful to include equal numbers of ethnicities, but the researchers would like to see a bigger study in the future.
Amanda E. Paluch, Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Janet E. Fulton, et al. Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. JAMA Network Open, 2021; 4 (9): e2124516 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24516