Middle-age adults don’t have to take 10,000 steps for health benefits

It turns out you don’t have to walk 10,000 steps a day

Study - Walking slowly at age 45 could be a sign of accelerated aging

It’s often said that you should take 10,000 steps a day. But it turns out doing so doesn’t make that much of a difference compared to lower numbers of steps.

Research published in the journal JAMA Network Open earlier this month shows that walking over 10,000 steps a day did not reduce premature death risk in middle-aged adults. Walking more quickly also showed these results.

Instead, the biggest benefits seemed to kick in when participants walked 7,000 steps each day. Doing so lessened middle-aged people’s risk of early death from all causes by 50% to 70% compared to middle-aged people who took fewer daily steps, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst news release.

Lead author Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist at the UMass, said 10,000 steps a day isn’t a science-based guideline. It came from a decades-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer. As explained in the book, “Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do is Healthy and Rewarding,” in the 1960s, manufacturer Yamasa Tokei chose the name Manpo-kei — which translates to “10,000-step meter” — mostly because it sounded good.

For the recent study, Paluch and her team of UMass researchers aimed to answer the question, how many steps per day do we need for health benefits?

“That would be great to know for a public health message or for clinician-patient communication,” she said.

The study used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) cohort study. It involved 2,100 participants between age 38 and 50 who wore an accelerometer beginning in 2005 or 2006. They were tracked for nearly 11 years and the data was analyzed in 2020 and 2021.

Participants were divided into three groups for comparison. Fewer than 7,000 daily steps placed participants in the low-step volume group. Moderate was considered between 7,000-9,999 steps. High was taking more than 10,000 steps.

“You see this gradual risk reduction in mortality as you get more steps,” Paluch said. “There were substantial health benefits between 7,000 and 10,000 steps but we didn’t see an additional benefit from going beyond 10,000 steps.

“For people at 4,000 steps, getting to 5,000 is meaningful,” she added. “And from 5,000 to 6,000 steps, there is an incremental risk reduction in all-cause mortality up to about 10,000 steps.”

Since the study involved middle-aged adults, it offers insight into how to remain healthy longer and prevent early death.

“Preventing those deaths before average life expectancy — that is a big deal,” Paluch said. “Showing that steps per day could be associated with premature mortality is a new contribution to the field.”

An equal number of men and women and Black and white participants were involved. Death rates for people walking a minimum of 7,000 steps daily were lowest among women and Black participants compared to peers who were more sedentary. The sample of people who died was limited. Paluch cautioned that researchers need to study bigger diverse populations to measure statistically significant sex and race differences.

“We looked at just one outcome here — all-cause deaths,” she said. “The association could look different depending on your outcome of interest.”

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