Far fewer than 10,000 steps per day can boost health

Fitness tracking devices often advise that we take 10,000 steps a day—about five miles—but taking far fewer can still have health benefits, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s I-Min Lee, an expert on step counts and health.

A July 6, 2021, article in the New York Times cited several studies that have found it’s not necessary to take 10,000 steps every day to improve longevity. For example, a 2019 study led by Lee, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, found that women in their 70s who reached 4,400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40%, compared to women who took 2,700 or fewer steps per day. The risk of early death continued to drop among the women who walked more than 5,000 steps per day, but the benefits plateaued at roughly 7,500 daily steps.

The Times also cited another study that found that people who walked 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who walked 4,000 steps a day.

Lee said that increasing step counts by even a few thousand strides on most days could be a sufficient and achievable goal. Many people currently take about 5,000 steps per day doing everyday activities like housework and shopping. If they add another 2,000 to 3,000 steps per day—roughly half an hour of exercise, which is what’s recommended in U.S. physical activity guidelines—they’d reach a total of between 7,000 and 8,000 steps, which Lee said seems to be the step-count sweet spot.

Read the New York Times article: Do We Really Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day for Our Health?

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10,000 steps not a magic number for fitness (Harvard Chan School news)