Posted on Oct 26, 2023, 8 p.m.
Recent research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology carried out in collaboration between researchers from the Netherlands (Radboud University Medical Center), Spain (Universities of Granada and Castilla-La Mancha) and the United States (Iowa State University), has identified the optimal amount of steps at which most people obtain the greatest benefits, and shows the pace at which one walks provides additional benefits.
Back in the 1960s researchers in Japan suggested that 10,000 steps a day was the target to hit, but it did not have much scientific basis, and researchers in the modern day have shown that. This international study led by the University of Granada (UGR) has shown that when focusing on the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) it is better to walk fast than slow, and the most benefits are seen when one hits around 7,000 steps a day. Taking 8,000 steps a day significantly reduces the risk of premature death, which is equivalent to walking around 6.4 kilometers a day.
"Traditionally, many people thought that you had to reach about 10,000 steps a day to obtain health benefits -- an idea that came out of Japan in the 1960s but had no basis in science," explains the lead author of the study, Francisco B. Ortega, a professor at the UGR's Department of Physical Education and Sports.
"We've shown for the first time that the more steps you take, the better, and that there is no excessive number of steps that has been proven to be harmful to health," says Ortega, who also points out that reaching 7,000-9,000 steps a day is a sensible health goal for most people.”
"What makes our study different is that, for the first time, we set clear step targets," explains Esmée Bakker, currently a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Granada and one of the lead authors of the study.
"In this study, we show that measurable benefits can be obtained with small increases in the number of steps per day, and that for people with low levels of physical activity, every additional 500 steps improves their health. This is good news because not everyone can walk almost 9,000 steps a day, at least not at first, so you can set small, reachable goals and gradually make progress and increase the number of steps per day," the researchers note.
The systematic review and meta-analysis of data from 12 international studies involving more than 110,000 participants revealed no difference between men and women, and that walking faster is associated with a reduced risk of mortality, regardless of the number of steps taken each day. The results of this study are in line with that of other recent studies showing health benefits obtained at less than 10,000 steps.
"More steps are never bad. Our study showed that even as many as 16,000 steps a day does not pose a risk; on the contrary, there are additional benefits compared to walking 7,000-9,000 steps a day, but the differences in risk reduction are small. Furthermore, the step target should be age appropriate, with younger people being able to set a higher target than older people. It is also important to note that our study only looked at the effect on the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. There are other studies and a large body of scientific evidence that show that doing moderate and even vigorous physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including improvements in sleep quality and mental health, among many others,” said Francisco B. Ortega.
"Our study gives people clear and easily measurable goals," Bakker continues. "The (inter)national physical activity recommendations advise adults to get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. But most people don't know what exercises count as moderate intensity, making it difficult to verify their compliance with this exercise standard. Counting steps is much simpler, especially since most people have a smartphone or smartwatch these days. Herein lies the importance of our study: to provide simple and concrete targets for the number of daily steps that people can easily measure with their phones and smartwatches or wristbands, and thereby contribute to people's health," the authors conclude.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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Image Credit: Tamsyn Webber