The more you walk, the lower your risk of all-cause mortality and cancer, according to a new study, with benefits leveling out once you reach 10,000 steps per day. Clearly this is the number of steps to aim for, or is it?
Studies comparing health outcomes with step counts seem pretty compelling, because these days we all have step counters on our wrists or iin our pockets. A step count number also sounds very concrete and precise: 10,000 steps equals health and happiness, and is automatically measured by us. wow
But hey, I’m sure you’ve noticed some important caveats. Our bodies are messy meat machines, not clean stepping stones. If exercise is what matters, wouldn’t a cyclist have a lower step count than a runner, but also be just as healthy? Because of this, couldn’t a walker and a runner finish with a similar number of steps despite doing very different intensities of exercise that likely have different effects on the body?
On the other hand, there are a few ways that step counting is a good way to track activity, so I don’t want to dismiss the idea entirely. even though i am skeptical of the sharpness that an image offers. Step counts are higher for people who move more in daily life (activity (sometimes called) even if they don’t do a lot of structured exercise. Steps are also counted automatically: YYou may not remember whether you did yard work for 20 minutes or 45, but your tracker probably has a good idea of how many steps you took.
There is another set of caveats: Tthese studies are usually observational. They tell us that people who take more steps a day tend to be healthier. But is it cause or effect? People in poor health may have less energy for daily errands and walks. And people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids probably don’t count steps even when they do.
With that in mind, here are some step counts published in recent research, along with some of their caveats.
For all-cause mortality and cancer mortality
This study found that people who took 10,000 steps had a lower risk than those who took 8,000, who in turn had a lower risk than those who took 6,000, and so on. Step counts above 10,000 appeared to have a similar risk as 10,000. In other words, if this represents a true, causal relationship, which we can’t be sure of, increasing from 10,000 to 12,000 would not change the risk of cancer or death.
The 78,500 people tracked were from the UK, aged 40-79 and 97% white.
This study found that participants’ risk of dementia decreased the more steps they took, up to 9,800 per day, similar to the previous study. (It was also conducted by the same team and drew from the same group of subjects.) They also note that people who took 3,800 steps had about half the reduced risk as people who took 9,800, so perhaps that number lower would be a good target. if you are currently more sedentary. That said, it was also an observational study, and most of the participants were quite young to start developing dementia.
For all-cause mortality in older women
This study found a reduced risk of death from any cause in women who took 4,400 steps compared to those who took 2,700 steps per day. More was better, up to about 7,500 steps, after which the chance of dying seemed to even out. The step count numbers come from quartiles: the 25% of people with the lowest step counts had an average of about 2,700.
The participants were 16,741 women with an average age of 72. They come from the Women’s health study, which began as a 1990s trial of aspirin and vitamins for the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Participants are 95% white and most are nurses.
For mortality in middle-aged people
This study compared steps per day with risk of death in middle age (41 to 65). It found that people who took more than 7,000 steps had a 50% to 70% reduced risk of death compared to people who took less than 7,000 steps per day. This number was chosen as the cutoff because it is the number that estimates from the American College of Sports Medicine such as a 30-minute walk each day plus a small amount of non-exercise activity.
The 2,110 participants were 57% female, 42% black, and were followed for an average of about 11 years after the study.
For arterial stiffness
Hardened arteries are a component of cardiovascular disease. This systematic review found that increasing steps by 2,000 per day appears to reduce arterial stiffness by about the same amount as starting a structured exercise program. The categories compared in the analysis ranged from those who took less than 5,000 steps to those who took more than 10,000. The authors write: “In simple terms, these findings suggest that some physical activity is better than none, but also that more is better than less.”
The results come from 20 previous studies. Most were cross-sectional (comparing groups of people based on how many steps they take), but some were randomized controlled trials or prospective studies.
For risk of diabetes in Latino adults
This study found that every additional 1,000 steps per day was associated with a 2% reduction in diabetes risk. People who took between 10,000 and 12,000 steps a day had an 18% lower risk compared to those who took less than 5,000 steps a day.
Study participants were 6,634 Hispanic and Latino adults, half of them women, with an average age of 39.
For mortality from all causes, but at different ages
This study it is interesting because it breaks down the results by age groups. Data from 15 studies suggest that mortality decreases with more steps to 6,000-8,000 steps for people aged 60 and over, but that the equivalent in younger adults is 8,000-10,000.
What do we make of all this?
I think it would be a mistake to take these top-line results entirely at face value. Can the risk of death be reduced by a certain percentage just by deliberately walking a few thousand more steps a day? Almost all of these studies compared people who now walked different amounts, rather than tasking groups of people to increase the number of steps and see how their health changed.
But the results suggest that healthier people tend to have step counts toward the higher end of the typical range. In virtually all of these studies (and others in this area of research), people who take, say, 8,000 steps tend to be in a lower risk category than those who take, say, 2,000. So if you’re currently pretty sedentary, it’s worth a try, even if there’s no specific study that says so. to own to meet such and such a number.
It’s also interesting, I think, to see that there aren’t any specific optimal number that these studies have identified, although we like to talk about these studies in particular. It’s not that you have to get to 10,000 because something different will happen than if you had 9,500.
The curves in the charts in these articles tend to break out somewhere in the high four digits, but the estimates are also less certain because not many people get more steps than that. A person who routinely takes 25,000 steps a day, for example, is off the charts. They may be very fit, or they may have an active job that works them harder than they can easily recover from; these studies are not designed to find out the difference.
The bottom line, then, is probably what you would have guessed even before you checked the numbers: if you sit a lot, moving more is probably going to be good for you. And if you want a specific guide, you can go with the good old one More than 150 minutes of exercise per week guideline, or follow the different ones government project guidelines who recommend 8,500 steps per day (US Presidential Challenge), 7,000 to 10,000 (UK National Obesity Forum) or 8,000 to 10,000 (Japan).