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Fewer Than 10,000 Steps a Day Needed to Keep Death at Bay, Study Finds

A new review finds that walking as little as 2,300 to 4,000 steps a day can be linked to a reduced risk of dying early.

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Getting enough steps in to stay healthy might be easier than expected, a new review of the evidence suggests. The study found that walking just under 4,000 steps a day is associated with a reduced risk of early death, while even less than 2,500 steps a day could cut your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. These benefits also appear to increase the more steps you take regularly.

The new research is the result of a collaboration between scientists in Europe and the United States. Plenty of studies have found a consistent link between exercise and a longer, healthier life—and conversely, between inactivity and worse health. But the team wanted to better quantify the number of steps needed for adequate physical activity. While 10,000 steps has often been used as a baseline for achieving good physical health, the recommendation actually originates from a marketing campaign in the 1960s by a Japanese company that was looking to sell their pedometers, rather than from dedicated scientific research. And at least some studies since then have cast doubt on 10,000 steps being any sort of magic number.


The team conducted a meta-analysis of 17 different studies from across the globe, which collectively looked at over 200,000 people. These studies included generally healthy people as well as those at risk for cardiovascular disease, and used steps as a measurement of physical activity (the distance of a step depends on people’s stride, but 2,000 steps is generally considered equivalent to a mile, or 1.6 kilometers). The studies also tracked people’s health outcomes, including death, for a median length of about seven years.

The researchers started to find a significant association between physical activity and a reduced risk of dying early from any cause at just 3,867 steps per day. For cardiovascular-related deaths in particular, a potential benefit could be seen at only 2,337 steps a day. The team also found that there was seemingly no limit to the benefits of walking more steps, all the way to 20,000 steps a day.


The team’s findings were published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The findings do have some limitations. For one, the studies analyzed by the researchers didn’t all use the same method for counting steps, which could possibly affect the interpretation of their results. And perhaps most importantly, this research can only show a correlation between walking steps and a reduced mortality risk, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

At the same time, the authors say theirs is the first study of its kind to account for variables like regional differences in climate, as well as age and gender. (The team did find a slightly lower reduction in mortality risk for people over 60 compared to younger people). This is also far from the first study to show that a little bit of physical activity goes a long way, and that getting more exercise only helps.

“Our study confirms that the more you walk, the better,” said study author Maciej Banach, a professor of cardiology at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland, in a statement released by the European Society of Cardiology, publishers of the journal. “We found that this applied to both men and women, irrespective of age, and irrespective of whether you live in a temperate, sub-tropical or sub-polar region of the world, or a region with a mixture of climates.”