Many millions of people around the world wear smartwatches or use smartphone apps to count the number of steps they walk every day. But how many are the optimal number to promote good health?
An international study led by the researchers at the University of Granada in Spain has disclosed for the first time the best number of steps at which most people obtain the greatest benefits. It also discovered that the pace of the walking provides additional health advantages.
The suggestion of walking 10,000 steps a day was first made in Japan about six decades ago when some people used pedometers, but no one proved it scientifically. The researchers have now shown that if we focus on the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, most of the benefits are seen at around 7,000 steps.
Given the average length of a human stride – 76 centimeters for men and 67 centimeters for women), taking 7,000 to 8,000 steps is equivalent to walking about 6.4 kilometers a day.
Researchers have also shown that the pace at which we walk has additional benefits, and that it is better to walk fast than slow. With regard to the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), most of the benefits are seen at around 7,000 steps.
The study was recently published in one of the world’s leading cardiology journals – The Journal of the American College of Cardiology – under the title “The Relationship of Daily Step Counts to All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events.” Collaborators in the research came from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the Universities of Granada and Castilla-La Mancha in Spain and at Iowa State University in the US. It was headed by physical education and Sports Prof. Francisco Ortega.
Researchers conducted systematic literature review, meta-analysis
The researchers conducted a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of data from 12 international studies involving more than 110,000 participants from their inception until October 2022. “What makes our study different is that, for the first time, we set clear step targets,” explained postdoctoral research fellow Esmée Bakker 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 improve their health. This is good news because not everyone can walk almost 8,000 or 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 asserted.
Surprisingly, the study revealed no difference between men and women. It also found that faster walking is associated with a reduced risk of death, regardless of the total number of steps per day. “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,” Bakker added.
So, should we stop walking when we reach around 9,000 steps? “Absolutely not”, insisted Ortega. “As few as about 2,600 and about 2,800 steps/d yield significant mortality and CVD benefits, with progressive risk reductions up to about 8,800.
“More steps are never harmful. Our study showed that even as many as 16,000 steps a day don’t pose any harm. On the contrary, there are additional benefits compared to walking 7,000 to 9,000 steps a day, but the differences in risk reduction are small. The step target should also be appropriate to one’s age, 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.”
“Our study gives people clear and easily measurable goals,” Bakker concluded. “The physical activity recommendations advise adults to get 150 to 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. Our study is important because it supplies 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.”