Do You Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

By Jiri Kaloc

We all saw that magic number of steps somewhere. But is there a reason we should all be walking 10,000 steps every day? What happens if we walk a bit less or a bit more? A recent analysis of 15 studies involving nearly 50,000 people gave us an insight into what’s actually optimal for health and longevity and how the number of steps changes as we age.

10,000 steps was just marketing

The goal of 10k daily steps originally started as a claim from a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer, with no science to back up the impact on health. Researchers from University of Massachusetts Amherst wanted to develop an evidence-based public health message about the benefits of walking in its place.

The researchers divided the participants into four groups based on their average steps per day. The lowest step group averaged 3,500 steps per day, the second group 5,800, the third 7,800 and the fourth and highest group averaged 10,900 steps.

6,000 steps are enough for older adults

The new research expands on findings from a previous study which found that walking at least 7,000 steps a day reduced middle-aged people’s risk of premature death. This new study offered more granular data.

For adults 60 and older, the risk of premature death levelled off at about 6,000-8,000 steps per day. More steps than that provided no additional benefit for longevity.

Adults younger than 60 saw the risk of premature death stabilise at about 8,000-10,000 steps per day.

“So, what we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off. And the levelling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults,” said lead author Amanda Paluch.

Every step counts

The other good news is that the research found no association with walking speed. As long as you get enough steps, it doesn’t really matter whether you walked slowly or fast. They observed a link to a lower risk of death for all speeds. Among the 3 most active groups with 5,800-10,900 steps, there was a 40-53% lower risk of death compared to the lowest step group that averaged only 3,500 steps.

“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. More steps per day are better for your health. And the benefit in terms of mortality risk levels of around 6,000 to 8,000 for older adults and 8,000 to 10,000 for younger adults,” Paluch concluded.

Walking or cycling?

So, where does that leave us cyclists? Cycling is still the most time-efficient way to get your heart pumping, burn more calories, and it is better for keeping you fit and slim. There is of course the ‘disadvantage’ of having to own and maintain a bike. If you want to look at the comparison in more detail, check out our previous article. In the meantime, walk or ride, as long as you’re moving regularly, you’re doing well!