Optimal Daily Steps for Longevity: It’s Not 10,000, Scientists Find

Posted by

Common belief suggests that the path to a lengthy and healthy life commences with 10,000 steps every day.

For individuals leading a more sedentary lifestyle, maintaining the goal of 10,000 steps can require significant effort. It has been widely acknowledged for some time that this goal is almost certainly incorrect.

After examining data from tens of thousands of individuals across four continents from 15 existing studies, a team of researchers has identified a more reasonable figure: the optimal number is likely closer to 6,000 steps per day, with variations based on age.

Additional steps beyond this threshold are unlikely to further decrease the risk of encountering an untimely demise.

So, what we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off, said University of Massachusetts Amherst epidemiologist Amanda Paluch when the study was released in March 2022.

And the leveling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults.

Humans are fundamentally designed for walking. Through evolution, our physiology has been finely tuned to cover long distances, efficiently dissipating heat as we move back and forth like inverted pendulums in the quest for food and water across the landscape.

This implies that our metabolisms, cardiovascular fitness, impact on our bones and muscles, and even our mental health are all optimized to benefit from a good hike. Incorporating just about any type of stroll into our hectic schedules will prove beneficial, aiding us in living longer, healthier, and happier lives.

For individuals with time constraints or lacking motivation, incorporating daily walks can be challenging. This is why technology companies created small devices to assist us in monitoring the number of steps we take each day.

Approximately fifty years ago, the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company in Japan aimed to capitalize on the excitement generated by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics by creating a pedometer named ‘Manpo-kei’ – a term that translates to 10,000 steps.

Why 10,000? Purely a result of traditional marketing. It’s a convenient, rounded number that sounds challenging as a goal, yet feasible enough to be a worthwhile pursuit. What it lacks is any scientific endorsement.

Having a single figure for widespread promotion is undoubtedly beneficial. It’s such a clear communication tool for public health messaging, stated Paluch.

However, accurately determining that number could be the key to motivating everyone to engage in sufficient exercise, or risk discouraging people from trying altogether.

In 2021, Paluch and her team published research based on a cohort of over 2,000 middle-aged individuals across the US. Their findings indicated that taking a minimum of 7,000 steps daily reduced the likelihood of premature death by 50 to 70 percent.

The phrase ‘at least’ carries significant weight. As uncertainties persist regarding the benefits of exceeding this threshold and the effectiveness of a faster pace, the research team expanded their scope to incorporate previously conducted studies.

In their 2022 meta-analysis, data from 47,471 adults across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America were examined. The findings revealed that the top 25 percent of daily step-takers had a 40 to 53 percent lower risk of mortality compared to those in the lowest 25 percent of step counts.

For individuals aged 60 and above, the optimal range for reducing the risk of death appeared to be around 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day. While additional steps may offer other health advantages, a further decrease in the likelihood of mortality was not observed.

The research suggests that younger individuals might benefit from increasing their daily steps, but there is no clear evidence that exceeding 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day necessarily extends their lifespan.

When it comes to the pace of steps, the study indicates that the overall volume of steps is the crucial factor.

The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity, said Paluch.

This doesn’t negate the potential benefits of engaging in more strenuous physical activities.

Adding thirty minutes of vigorous activity daily could significantly benefit those with sedentary lifestyles. Incorporating strength training in later years may contribute to maintaining cognitive sharpness, heart health, and bone strength.

At the very least, aiming for 6,000 to 8,000 steps before bedtime could be a simpler stride toward a longer and healthier life.

The findings from this study were published in The Lancet: Public Health.

This article was initially published in March 2022.