How Many Daily Steps are Needed to Extend Life?

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A study recently found that the suggested 10,000 steps per day to promote health may be excessive. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this original investigation found that women who averaged around 4,400 steps a day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who only clocked in 2,700 daily strides. It was also noted that this longevity benefit leveled off around 7,500 steps a day.

10,000 Steps Provides Little Additional Benefit

With the growing popularity of wearables pedometers such as the FitBit and Apple Watch, many consumers are setting lofty goals for their daily step counts. The goal of 10,000 steps has become popularized, being that this number is supposedly equivalent to the 30 minutes of daily activity recommended by the Surgeon General. An article posted by FitBit, titled The Magic of 10,000 Steps, provides further detail regarding the proposed benefits of hitting this quota.

I-Min Lee, lead study author from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, notes that the exact origin of this 10,000 step count is unknown. Lee writes that this number was likely perpetuated by the marketing of a 1960’s pedometer called Manpo-kei, translating to “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese.

The Search for the Real Number

To find a data-supported goal for daily strides, the researchers included over 17,000 women with an average age of 72 years. These women were mailed ActiGraph accelerometers, which they were told to wear for one week and only remove for sleep and activities in water. Those who wore the device for ten hours a day on at least four of the days monitored were included in the study, which includes data from 2011-2015. This device was used to monitor not only step count, but step speed as well. Data regarding these walking metrics was then compared with mortality statistics, with women being followed through December of 2017. Deaths were reported either by family members or postal services, and certificates of death were obtained to confirm the reports.

4,400 Steps Per Day Reduces Early Death

The researchers found that the women who averaged 4,400 steps per day saw a 41 percent reduction in mortality rate compared to those who took 2,700 daily steps. This drop in death rate increased steadily with the number of steps the women took; however, once they hit 7,500 daily steps this effect plateaued. In addition, the study found that average step speed had no significant relationship with mortality rates, suggesting that taking more steps is more important than walking faster for these older women.

The team concluded that their study should encourage those who are unable to attain 10,000 daily steps, being that mortality rates significantly decrease with much less activity. Tracking step count has become much easier now that most smartphones and wearables are capable of doing so, and this study provides consumers with research-backed goals for their daily step quota.

Authors of the study include Lee, Eric J. Shiroma of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Masamitsu Kamada of the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, and others. Their original investigation was published to JAMA Internal Medicine on May 29 and is available to the general public at no cost.