Taking 10,000 steps a day for optimal health has become a widely held belief. But walking that much may not be necessary for improved health or weight management. A new study finds that even 4,400 steps a day can lower your risk of an early death from heart disease or other chronic conditions.
Researchers found that the magic number is more like 7,500 steps a day. “Mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling” at 7,500 steps, they wrote. The study had more good news: For the participants monitored, the number of steps taken mattered, but the walking speed did not have an impact on life span.
“There’s this thing on the Internet that you’re supposed to get 10,000 steps in a day… that’s the number that that’s thrown out there,” says Derek Papp, M.D ., sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute . “But if you look at someone who’s following the (U.S.) guideline of exercising about 30 minutes a day, those people typically get in 7,500 steps — which is a good amount.”
For substantial health benefits, U.S. guidelines  call for adults to get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling. Adults should also do some muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, the guidelines say. Weight-resistance exercises provide additional health benefits .
Authors of the new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine , that debunks the 10,000-steps-a-day myth made their conclusion after monitoring 16,741 women ages 62 to 101 years old, with an average age of 72. Previous studies have shown that walking regularly reduces your risk for developing diabetes and high blood pressure.
The women took part in the research by wearing a device to measure their steps over seven days. At a follow-up more than four years later, the data indicated that the women’s mortality rates progressively decreased with more steps per day. However, the benefits leveled off at about 7,500 steps daily.
Researchers concluded that women who reached an average of just 4,400 steps a day cut their risk of an early death significantly. They were 41 percent less likely to die than those who took the least number of steps, an average of 2,700 a day.
“The interesting thing is that it’s not necessarily the speed that you’re walking, but it’s actually the effort of walking,” explains Dr. Papp. “So the the amount of calories that you burn is probably more related to the distance that you walk and your weight and the time — rather than the speed. For sure, you’ll burn more calories if you walk faster and farther because you’ll get more exercise. But it shouldn’t be something that holds you up from trying if you want to start exercising.”