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New Study: Aim for 7,000-10,000 Steps a Day for Optimal Health Benefits

Logging in your daily steps on any of a multitude of apps available has become a common practice, even during the pandemic. But are 10,000 steps a day, the most widely promoted fitness goal, a good standard to use? A widely reported new study says yes, but the prime health benefits of walking regularly start at 7,000 steps a day.

Adults at middle-age who walked at least 7,000 steps a day, on average, were 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to die of any cause over the next decade, compared with adults who took fewer steps, according to results published this month in JAMA Network Open [1].

“Being physically active provides substantial health benefits for many conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several cancers, as well as improving quality of life,” the researchers emphasize as part of the study. “The number of steps people take each day is a meaningful metric for quantifying total daily activity.”

The study’s participants included 2,110 adults, ages 38 to 50. They started wearing an accelerometer about 15 years ago to track their steps. During the follow-up period, which averaged almost 11 years, 72 of the participants died, most commonly from heart disease or cancer, the two top causes of death in the U.S. The researchers considered other key factors in their calculations, including body mass index, smoking and other underlying health issues that could have affected their findings.

The study concludes that the lower risk of premature death was observed for both women and men who took 7,000 daily steps or more. But the benefits do not significantly increase beyond 10,000 steps a day. “Taking more than 10 000 steps a day was not associated with further reduction in mortality risk,” the study’s authors wrote.

U.S. guidelines for physical activity [2] recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to vigorous-intensity of physical activity, which includes brisk walking. One key change that was made to the fitness guidelines in its second edition update [3] in 2018 was to promote any aerobic activity to break up long periods of time spent sitting down.

Even a single episode of activity that breaks up long sessions of sitting provides short-term benefits, such as potentially lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and improving sleep, the U.S. guidelines say. Based on the latest research, the updated guidelines said exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety, slow the progression of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and help prevent eight types of cancer in adults.

Several studies have indicated that regular exercise, such as brisk walking, can help replace medications for many patients, especially those on meds to treat hypertension, other heart disease risk factors and other chronic conditions. (Always consult with your physician about exercise programs if you have an underlying or chronic health condition.)

“We recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of cardiovascular exercises, and regular resistance training as well,” said Michael Swartzon, M.D. [4], primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute [5]. “I’ve had many patients who have reduced or eliminated the use of prescription medications simply with dedication to lifestyle changes of diet and exercise.”