If you’re one of the many adults who makes it a daily goal to “get your steps in,” whether you’re tracking with a smartphone or wearable device, we have good news: You may not need as many as you think to stay healthy.
You’ve likely heard that people should aim to walk 10,000 steps a day for optimal health, but that number’s not exactly scientific. In fact, a new study of nearly 18,000 older women, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that taking as few as 4,400 steps a day may be enough to lower your risk of death as much as 41%.
That’s not to say you have to stop there, though: Researchers found that the risk of death continued to drop the farther people walked, but the benefits leveled off around 7,500 steps per day. That’s great news, but it shows that even a modest increase in the distance you walk every day can make a difference, says I-Min Lee, Sc.D., an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, where the study was done. "Our study adds to a growing understanding of the importance of physical activity for health, clarifies the number of steps related to lower mortality, and amplifies the message: Even a little more is helpful."
While this study looked mostly at older white women (average age 72) who were already healthy, the researchers are hopeful that the findings will apply to other groups as well—however, more studies need to be done on younger and more diverse populations for sure.
"Of course, no single study stands alone. But our work continues to make the case for the importance of physical activity," said Lee. "Clearly, even a modest number of steps was related to lower mortality rate among these older women. We hope these findings provide encouragement for individuals for whom 10,000 steps a day may seem unattainable."
Get Moving: Tips for Starting a Walking Program
Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to start, especially since it requires no special equipment and can be done almost anytime, anywhere. All you need are some comfortable walking shoes! These tips can help you get started so you can reach your step goals and enjoy yourself at the same time:
- Start gradually and build your way up. If you’re new to walking as a form of exercise, start slow. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend healthy adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise (which includes brisk walking) per week, it’s totally fine to work your way up to that. Your first few walks may be as short as five or 10 minutes, and your pace may be on the slow end. Over the first few weeks, try to work your way up to longer stretches of time and a faster pace.
- Make walking part of your daily routine. Instead of carving out a chunk of time to get all your steps in at once, why not integrate walking throughout your normal day? Consider walking to run errands that are nearby, like running to grab some milk or eggs from your corner store. Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones who lives close enough to walk to work, leave your car in the garage for the day and let your own two feet get you where you need to go.
- Use break time to walk in nature. Instead of spending your lunch break scrolling through Facebook, why not go outside and get some fresh air and walk around the neighborhood?
- Listen to music or a podcast. If you find the idea of walking for exercise boring, spice things up by listening to your favorite tunes or downloading an interesting podcast. You can even build a specific playlist that lasts as long as you plan to walk—time will fly, and you can even walk to the beat!