Good news for all the step-counters out there — a new study just confirmed that the target we all shoot for, that elusive 10,000 steps per day, is actually spot on for improving health and staving off a number of life-threatening illnesses.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, and the University of Southern Denmark analyzed data from the UK Biobank compiled for 78,500 adults aged 40-79 who wore fitness trackers, then compared step counts with health outcomes seven years later.
Those who regularly clocked 10,000 steps were less likely to have developed dementia, heart disease, or cancer or have died from any cause seven years later. The kicker? Those who walked faster benefited more than those who took leisurely strolls.
“The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits, people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster,” co-lead author Dr. Matthew Ahmadi of the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre said in a release for the study.
This idea of effort mattering as much as volume of exercise has been born out in studies of low-volume high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which includes no more than 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest breaking it up, can boost heart health and blood sugar control, according to a new review study.
Furthemore, any form of exercise helps. Even if you aren’t hitting 10,000 steps a day — the distance equivalent of roughly 5 miles daily — the team found quantifiable health benefits in lower step counts. The risk of premature death was decreased between eight and 11 percent for every 2,000 steps walked, and the findings for cancer and heart disease were roughly equivalent.
“For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3,800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25 percent,” said co-lead author Associate Professor Borja del Pozo Cruz from the University of Southern Denmark.
The news is especially interesting because the 10,000 steps a day rule of thumb has been under scrutiny for years. Funnily enough, the Wall Street Journal reported that the initial wisdom of 10,000 steps a day came from a Japanese pedometer — the name of which translated to “the 10,000 step meter.” In other words, 10,000 steps was initially just product marketing — but now, science backs
In fact, the old wisdom of the “10,000 steps” came from a 1965 product launch of a Japanese pedometer that translates to, “the 10,000 step meter,” per The Wall Street Journal. Somehow, that name caught on and the common wisdom became that people had to hit that amount of steps per day. But 10,000 steps wasn’t that far off.
One 2021 study found that 7,000 steps per day was the gold standard, and that benefits tapered off at higher step counts. The same study also found that pace or walking intensity did not impact the overall benefit of reaching the 7,000 mark.
In contrast, a separate study found that “brisk walking” — setting a pace of three to 4.5 mph — enhanced the health benefits of walking.
While the experts can’t seem to agree on an exact number of how many steps we should take, or how fast we should be taking them, they all agree that walking is beneficial for your overall health and reduces the risk of chronic disease and death. So the takeaway is to strap on your sneakers, grab your step counter (or don’t), and get out there, but briskly.