You needn’t aim for 10,000 steps a day—just get your feet moving
By Caitlin Finlay
Whether you go for a long walk each day or get your steps in short spurts, taking more steps each day could help you live longer.
In a recently completed study, participants saw benefits from taking more steps whether they walked for 10 minutes or longer or amassed their steps in short bursts of activity such as climbing stairs, doing housework, and running errands.
The study included 16,732 women over the age of 60 from a large-scale, long-term US study called the Women’s Health Study. The preliminary results of the study were presented virtually on May 20 and May 21 at the 2021 American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference.
Researchers collected step data between 2011 and 2015 from participants wearing step-counting devices. Step activity was categorized as either 10 minutes or longer of uninterrupted walking or short spurts of walking. The researchers also tracked mortality among the participants through to the end of 2019.
According to the results, when compared to no daily steps, each increase of 1,000 steps a day saw an associated 28% lower incidence of death. In participants who walked more than 2,000 steps uninterrupted each day, researchers saw a 32% decrease in deaths. Participants who took more steps in short spurts lived longer regardless of the additional uninterrupted steps, but the benefits of steps from short spurts reached a plateau at around 4,500 steps per day. (In a previously published article, we reported on a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that showed that participants saw an equal benefit whether they walked the commonly recommended 10,000 steps or only 7,500 steps a day.) A prior analysis found that compared to the least active women in the study, the women who walked 4,500 steps per day had a significantly lower risk of death.
The study results suggest that long walks aren’t the only way to improve fitness and extend longevity; even 2,000 a day from short spurts of walking or taking the stairs can be beneficial.
“Older adults face many barriers to participating in structured exercise programs, so some may find it more convenient and enjoyable to increase everyday walking behaviours, such as parking slightly farther from their destination or doing some extra housework or yardwork,” said Christopher Moore, the lead study author and a Ph.D. student in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.