If you can’t get to 10,000 steps per day, I have great news for you!
Being physically active is one of the most powerful ways to maintain good health. You may have heard the health recommendation to get “10,000 steps per day.” New research shows that similar health benefits are seen when people get as little as 7,000 steps per day.
A group of American researchers recently published a study in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. They wanted to find out how many steps are associated with a reduced risk of premature death for middle-aged adults. They gave 2,110 participants ages 38-50 a wearable activity monitor to measure their steps, then grouped participants into three categories:
- Low – those who took fewer than 7,000 steps per day
- Moderate – those who took 7,000-9,999 steps per day
- High – those who took 10,000+ steps per day.
Researchers followed up with participants twice per year for several years afterwards (10.8 years, on average). They wanted to see how many died prematurely (earlier than the US population mean life expectancy) and compared this to how many steps they took per day and how quickly they were stepping.
They also accounted for a number of other factors such as smoking history, body weight and height, alcohol intake, diet (and rated it based on the Healthy Eating Index), fasting glucose, total cholesterol, blood pressure, and the medications that participants were using.
The researchers found that people who took a moderate number of steps per day (7,000-9,999) had their risk of premature mortality reduced by 50-70% compared with those who took only 6,999 or fewer steps per day. What’s also interesting is that those who took a high number of steps per day (10,000+) had almost the same benefit as the moderate group. In other words, whether you take 7,000, 8,000, or even 10,000+ steps per day you have a reduced risk of dying prematurely.
These findings were also consistent across racial groups and genders. “This cohort study found that higher daily step volume was associated with a lower risk of premature all-cause mortality among Black and white middle-aged women and men,” said the study authors.
But, what about how quickly people stepped? Did people who jogged or even ran have a further reduced risk? The speed or number of steps per minute is called “step intensity.” This study looked at, but did not find, that step intensity made any difference to the health benefits, although previous studies have found that intensity may reduce heart disease risk factors. In other words, middle-aged adults don’t need to sprint, or even jog, to reduce their risk of premature mortality.
The bottom line of this study is that middle-aged people should aim to get at least 7,000 steps each day to reduce their risks of dying prematurely.
Have trouble getting those 7,000 steps every day? Try:
- Downloading an app or using a pedometer to keep track of your progress.
- Booking a specific time into your day, every day, to make it a habit
- Enlist a family member, friend, neighbours, or your pup Champ to keep you company
About the study:
- This particular study was part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. The question they wanted to answer was: “Are step volume or intensity associated with premature mortality among middle-aged Black and white women and men?”
- “The objectives of our study were to examine the associations of step volume and intensity with mortality overall and by race and sex.”
- Researchers looked at premature death (from any cause) of the middle-aged participants (ages 38-50). They did not measure specific diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, mental health, etc. This means we can’t use the results of this study to confidently extrapolate these results to any specific disease or condition. Instead, we would look to other studies that looked at the links between physical activity and those specific diseases.
- Step volume = number of steps
- Step intensity = number of steps per minute (speed)
- Premature death = deaths earlier than US population mean life expectancy
- Conclusion: “This cohort study among Black and White men and women found that taking at least 7000 steps/d during middle adulthood was associated with a lower risk of mortality. There was no association of step intensity with mortality. Improving physical activity levels in the least active segment of the population by encouraging increasing steps/d may be associated with lower mortality risk.”
- Note that all studies have limitations. That’s why it’s important to look at multiple studies and give more weight to the ones that have a better design to answer the questions being asked. For this study, the researchers looked at a diverse group of middle-aged people (Black, white, women, and men), measured their steps, and followed up with them for many years looking for premature deaths. They did not ask anyone to *change* the number of steps they normally take. This means that the study is observational (no experiment or intervention was done, they were just *observing* what participants were doing and experiencing). Based on this study, we can’t say that one thing (steps) *caused* different risks for premature death.
- This is an observational study that correlated step numbers and death records for 2,110 38-50-year-olds in the US and followed this cohort of people for many years (average follow-up of 10.8 years). This means it’s not as strong as a randomized control trial (which would be even better than observational because it would be experimental and be able to show causation).
- Study strength is rated a 5/7 (cohort study) according to this chart: https://www.compoundchem.com/2015/04/09/scientific-evidence/