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8,000 Steps a Day to Reduce the Risk of Premature Death

Research reveals the magic number of 8,000 daily steps to reduce premature death
Research reveals the magic number of 8,000 daily steps to reduce premature death. Credit: Asela Jayarathne / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In a recent global study spearheaded by the University of Granada, experts have pinpointed, for the very first time, the ideal number of steps that offers the most advantages to the largest portion of the population. The study also reveals that speed may make a difference too.

In the 1960s, the notion that we should aim for ten thousand daily steps took root in Japan despite lack of scientific grounding. Now, however, through their study, scientists have demonstrated that when we focus on lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, the sweet spot for reaping most of the rewards hovers at around seven thousand steps.

Number of steps to decrease chances of premature death

A global research project spearheaded by the University of Granada (UGR) has now offered concrete scientific evidence regarding the number of daily steps required to substantially decrease the chances of early death. According to the study, this would be around eight thousand steps.

To put this into perspective, considering the typical length of a person’s stride (which is roughly 76 centimeters for men and 67 centimeters for women), achieving eight thousand steps equates to walking about 6.4 kilometers in a single day.

Furthermore, scientists have unveiled that the speed of our walking delivers added advantages, emphasizing the value of brisk walking over slower paces. When it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality, the majority of benefits are noticeable at approximately seven thousand steps.

This groundbreaking study was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, one of the foremost cardiology journals worldwide.

Rational number of steps

The lead author of the research paper, Professor Francisco B. Ortega of the Department of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Granada (UGR), said, “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.”

To illustrate, the initial pedometer introduced to the general public was named the “10,000 steps meter,” though this number lacked any scientific grounding. Professor Ortega highlighted, “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.”

He further emphasized that achieving a daily step range of seven to nine thousand is a reasonable and beneficial health objective for most individuals.

Research backed by other studies

The research team conducted a comprehensive analysis of existing scientific literature and data, drawing from twelve international studies involving over 110,000 participants.

The findings of this study align with other recent studies, indicating that health benefits can be achieved with fewer than ten thousand steps per day.

Esmée Bakker, one of the lead authors of the study currently serving as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Granada, explains that what sets the study apart is that, for the first time, specific step goals have been established.

“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,” the researchers noted. “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.”

No gender specific patterns in steps needed to reduce premature death

The study revealed that there is no distinction in the results between men and women. Experts also found that a swifter walking pace is linked to a reduced risk of mortality, irrespective of the total daily step count.

Furthermore, as Bakker highlights, “It doesn’t matter how you count your steps, whether you wear a smartwatch, a wrist-based activity tracker or a smartphone in your pocket: the step targets are the same.”

So, does this mean we should halt our walking regimen when we approach the nine thousand step mark? “Absolutely not,” asserts Francisco B. Ortega. “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,” Ortega noted, and “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 showing 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,” Ortega revealed.

Esmée Bakker added, “Our study gives people clear and easily measurable goals.”

Physical activity recommendations

The authors emphasize that their study provides individuals with clear and easily measurable goals. Current national and international physical activity recommendations suggest that adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

However, the definition of moderate intensity can be ambiguous for many people, making it difficult for them to confirm their adherence to these exercise guidelines. Counting steps, on the other hand, offers a much simpler alternative, especially given the prevalence of smartphones and smartwatches in today’s society.

This underscores the importance of the particular study, which aimed to establish straightforward and specific daily step targets that individuals can readily monitor. This can be done through the use of smartphones, smartwatches, or wristbands, ultimately contributing to improved health.

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