How to age well: walking 7,000 steps a day enough to help you live longer and be healthier, study says – 10,000 steps was just a marketing ploy

fitness trackers

It’s a question people have asked for decades, but in an era of smartphone apps and wearable tech devices, it might have increased relevance.

How many steps should you be taking every day?

A new peer-reviewed study published in JAMA Network Open suggests 7,000 steps a day could be a solid benchmark for middle-aged adults, a break from the often-repeated number of 10,000.

The study, which began tracking participants in 2005, revealed a 50 per cent to 70 per cent lower risk of premature, all-cause mortality for those who crossed that 7,000-steps-a-day threshold, compared with those who logged fewer than 7,000.

fitness trackers

Fitness devices and smartphones have led to more people taking note of their daily steps. Photo: Shutterstock

The study tracked 2,110 people aged 38 to 50 and followed them for an average of nearly 11 years.

While the 7,000-step milestone stood out in the study, experts say that simply improving on your current step count can make a difference.

People have been tracking their steps for years, but there hasn’t always been a clear daily goal.

The conventional goal of 10,000 steps was more of a “marketing tool” than anything else, said Dr I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a researcher on physical activity. A Japanese company released a step-tracking device in the 1960s called the “10,000 steps meter”, encouraging users to reach the milestone, and the number caught on.

In a 2019 study, Lee found that a higher number of steps is linked to lower mortality rates up until about 7,500 a day.

fitness trackers

Dr I-Min Le is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The latest step-count study, published this month, further contradicted the once-heralded 10,000-step mark. It found that crossing the threshold was not associated with a further reduction in the risk of premature mortality.

The study provides more insight into what middle-aged adults should be shooting for on a daily basis, but there isn’t a singular number recommended by US federal health officials just yet.

In fact, Americans need a clear national guidance on daily step counts, said Dr Nicole Spartano, a research assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.

fitness trackers

Dr Nicole Spartano is a research assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.

There’s a common misconception that exercise is limited to moderate-to-intense workout activities like running or biking, Spartano says. Establishing a national barometer of daily steps might help reshape how people view activity while also making the guidelines more accessible to those who can’t participate in moderate or intense workouts.

After all, doing something as simple as an evening walk is more activity than doing nothing at all. “It’s important that we can provide achievable goals for people who are doing very little activity,” Spartano said.

An effective way to establish more achievable goals, she argues, is for the messaging to come from the top, namely the US Department of Health and Human Services’ “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”, a set of health practices issued in 2008 and updated in 2018.

The guidelines tell adults to move more and sit less, reminding them that “some physical activity is better than none”. But they fall short of establishing a tangible step count goal.

Forming a daily step-count milestone for all Americans is the “ultimate goal”, especially as more people track health progress using fitness trackers, says University of Massachusetts Amherst assistant professor Amanda Paluch, who led the study.

Paluch and Spartano said future research on step counts would be helpful and necessary, especially to discover whether or how higher step counts are associated with other health outcomes besides premature mortality, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and mental health.

In the meantime, it can’t hurt to get more steps in. “If you’re at 4,000, try to get to 5,000. If you’re at 5,000, try to get to 6,000,” Paluch says. “You can find little ways to fit more steps into your life.”

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