Step up and live longer

Research pins down the amount of brisk walking we should do to remain healthy.

Scientists have determined how many steps we should take each day to reduce the risk of premature death. 

It’s accepted as gospel, and stated in current health guidelines, that we should aim to take about 10,000 steps a day to reduce the risk of premature death.

However, an international study has walked away from that – focusing on the greatest benefits for most people, as well as the optimum pace to walk to get the most benefits.

And the number of steps this study, led by researchers at the University of Granada (UGR) and published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, recommends is 8,000.

A little history

The idea that we should take 10,000 steps a day originated in Japan in the 1960s.

The first pedometer marketed to the public was called the “10,000 steps meter” but there was no scientific support for recommending that specific number of steps.

Researchers have now shown that, if we focus on the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, most of the benefits are seen at 7,000 steps.

They settled on a recommendation of between 7,000 and 9,000 steps a day.

Given the average length of a human stride – 76 centimetres for men and 67 centimetres for women – that’s around 6 kilometres.

And no dawdling, please. The pace of the walk is also important, with fast better than slow. 

“We’ve shown for the first time that the more steps you take, the better, and that there is no excessive number of steps that has been proven to be harmful to health,” said Francisco B. Ortega, a professor at the UGR’s Department of Physical Education and Sports.

Professor Ortega also pointed out that reaching 8,000 steps a day is a sensible health goal for most people.

The researchers conducted a systematic literature review and analysis of data from 12 international studies involving more than 110,000 participants.

The results of this study are in line with other recent studies, which show that health benefits are obtained at less than 10,000 steps.

The Granada study also shows benefits to making small increases in the number of steps per day. For people with low levels of physical activity, every additional 500 steps improves their health.

This is good news because not everyone can walk 8,000 steps a day, at least not at first.

It means you can set small, reachable goals and gradually make progress and increase the number of steps per day, the researchers say.

Health benefits

The study revealed no difference between men and women. It also found that faster walking is associated with a reduced risk of mortality, regardless of the total number of steps per day.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter how you count your steps, whether you wear a smartwatch, a wrist-based activity tracker, or a smartphone in your pocket: the step targets are the same.

Other studies show that doing physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including improvements in sleep quality and mental health.

It’s recommended that adults get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. But the researchers observe that most people don’t know what exercises count as moderate intensity, making it difficult to verify their compliance with this exercise standard.

Counting steps is much simpler, especially since most people have a smartphone or smartwatch these days.

Related reading: UGR, Health Direct 

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