The Daily 10,000-Step ‘Rule’ May Be Changing

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Remember when we first learned that it was recommended to get 10,000 steps in a day to remain healthy? Well the tide may be changing (and those who now work from home may be especially excited to hear this news): According to a new study published this month in JAMA Network Open, 7,000 steps may be the new magic number.

For me personally, cutting out my daily commute—a 20-block walk to and from my NYC office—has meant switching to the treadmill in order to log enough steps and not feel like a blob, but there are plenty of days when even that effort doesn’t result in 7,000, which is approximately three miles.

The study—part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study—took place between 2005 and 2006, and tracked the steps taken by 2,110 adults ages 38 to 50, who wore a device called an accelerometer over the course of a week. Participants—57 percent of whom were women—were followed for nearly 11 years following the data collection, and the data was analyzed in 2020 and 2021, taking things like BMI, smoking habits and other factors into consideration, as they could affect the findings.

And what were the findings exactly? Middle-aged people who walked at least 7,000 steps per day on average were 50 to 70 percent less likely to die of any cause over the next decade, compared to those who took fewer steps. This applied to both men and women, both black and white. “We saw that you can get a lot of benefit from 7,000 steps,” study author Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told NBC News. “Results showed that people appeared to gain more health benefits the more steps they took, with the greatest statistically significant reduction in mortality risk between 7,000 and 10,000 steps. After that, the benefits leveled off.”

Also worth noting, the study found no relationship between step intensity or speed, and mortality. “So really, what we’re seeing is there’s an incremental risk reduction in mortality up to a certain point,” Paluch said. “So for those who are getting, say, 4,000 steps, getting to 5,000 steps could have a benefit and then working your way up.”

New York–based certified fitness trainer Jessica Mazzucco, founder of The Glute Recruit, agrees. “If you walk for 30 minutes, you will walk about 4,000 steps, depending on your stride and speed,” she says. “Walking for even 30 minutes a day can provide health benefits such as weight loss, prevention of conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure, improved muscle endurance, increased energy levels, and strengthened bones and muscles. The average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, according to Mayo Clinic. Therefore, the 7,000 number is a good incentive to get even more steps into your day and help you reduce long periods of sitting. To put it simply, any movement you incorporate into your daily life is ideal, and even if you do not hit the ‘magic number,’ you will still gain health benefits. Walking is easy to integrate into your healthy lifestyle.” However, if your goal is weight-loss, Mazzucco notes that it’s important to understand you’ll probably also need to change your diet to see the best results.

For those who aren’t convinced, did you know the 10,000-step goal originated as a marketing tool for a Japanese pedometer that hit the market in the 1960s? So, some would argue there has never been clear-cut evidence for the current “daily requirement,” although it’s done no harm—that’s a great goal to hit for both fitness and health. It’s also an excuse to get a trendy Apple Watch or other fitness tracker, which have significantly increased in popularity over the years. According to Statista, users of wearable Fitbit activity trackers have increased from approximately a half million people in 2012 to 29.5 million people in 2019.

The current exercise guidelines for Americans were revised in 2018: “For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes—2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.”

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