Doctors and health experts recommend walking as one of the best and easiest ways to exercise, but not everyone is clear about how far it is necessary to walk for the healthy effects to be felt.
Although it is commonly established that 10,000 daily steps is the appropriate figure, there are several studies that rule out that it is a valid standard for all people.
In a study this September, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and collected by Science Alert , a team led by physical activity epidemiologist Amanda Paluch of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst tracked down a group of more 2,000 middle-aged black and white men and women from four different cities in the United States.
The group, averaging just over 45, wore accelerometers that recorded their daily step count and step intensity during waking hours as they progressed with their lives.
The experiment began in 2005, and the participants were followed at regular intervals until 2018, when 72 people from the original group had died.
While the observational nature of the study means that firm conclusions cannot be drawn about how walking did or did not improve the health of the people in the experiment, you can identify links between activity levels and overall group health outcomes.
The number that makes the difference
Most importantly, the researchers found that people who took at least 7,000 steps per day had roughly a 50-70% lower risk of premature death compared to those who averaged fewer than 7,000 steps per day in the experiment.
In contrast, by itself, the intensity of the step (measuring the speed of the steps taken) had no effect on mortality.
According to the researchers, increasing the volume of daily steps among the least active people in the population may confer the most protection against mortality, but after a certain point, the additional steps appear to have no beneficial effect , at least on that specific outcome.
“Taking more than 10,000 steps per day was not associated with a greater reduction in mortality risk, ” the researchers explain in their study.
While the findings broadly confirm much of what we already knew about the benefits of walking from previous studies, the new threshold of 7,000 steps is certainly an easier goal to reach than 10,000 steps for people who don’t walk at that level, and it could benefit most studies like this.
“Steps per day is a simple and easy metric to monitor, and getting more steps per day can be a good way to promote health,” Paluch said. “7,000 steps a day can be a big goal for many people who are currently not reaching this amount,” he added.
Not that 7,000 steps is the magic number; Nor is this the final issue we will probably hear about on this topic. According to physical activity researcher Nicole Spartano of Boston University, in the near future we can expect to learn much more about how daily steps affect our health, thanks to a new generation of imminent studies using newer accelerometer technology that does not was available in 2005.
“It is unclear to what extent steps measured on (older) activity monitors compare to steps measured by common consumer devices, including smart watches, pedometers, and smartphone apps,” writes Spartano.
“In the coming years, the number of published papers linking step counting to mortality will accelerate rapidly, as many other large-group studies have completed accelerometry measurement using a wide variety of research-grade accelerometer devices with 10 years of follow-up or more “, concludes this expert.