Forget Taking 10,000 Steps a Day—Here's the Number You Should Actually Be Focusing On

  • New study suggests that walking 8,000 steps once or twice a week may be enough to reduce your risk of death.
  • The gold standard of daily step counts has long been 10,000, but most experts agree that mortality benefits start to plateau after 8,000.
  • Experts recommend individuals make small lifestyle changes, like taking the stairs and setting aside 20 minutes for a walk, to increase their daily step count.

New study found that individuals may not actually need 10,000 steps a day to improve their health.

If you are someone who takes laps around your living room when you fall short of your daily step count, you may be encouraged by the results of a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open. Researchers found that you may not have to hit your step goal every single day to improve your health. In fact, they suggest that walking just 8,000 steps once or twice a week may be enough to reduce your risk of death. 

“For people who face difficulties in exercising regularly—due to work or family obligations—achieving a little more daily steps only a couple of days per week would have meaningful health benefits,” said Kosuke Inoue, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the department of social epidemiology, Graduate School of Medicine and School of Public Health, Kyoto University, Japan.

This is good news for people who struggle to fit in large chunks of movement every single day, but still want to improve their cardiovascular health and promote longevity. Here’s what you need to know about the number of steps you need to take each day to improve your health.

Step Count and Mortality

Researchers evaluated data from more than 3,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2005–2006. They tracked the participants’ step counts for one week and then measured this information against their mortality data.

What they discovered is that people who walked 8,000 or more steps a day once or twice a week had lower mortality rates that were nearly as good as those who walked the same number of steps every day. In other words, they found that people who took 8,000 steps one to two days a week had a 15% lower risk of dying in the next 10 years, while people who hit the 8,000-step mark three to seven days a week had a 16.5% lower risk.

Interestingly, the benefits plateaued after walking 8,000 steps three days per week. What that means is for those who walked that much for four or more days didn’t see any further reductions in mortality risk.

“Our study suggests walking itself—or moving your body in general—even for a couple of days per week has meaningful health benefits,” Dr. Inoue explained.

What Does This Mean for the 10,000-Steps-a-Day Goal?

For years, people have monitored their steps with the goal of achieving 10,000 per day. This goal is even the default setting in many fitness trackers. And while there are a number of different theories on where the goal came from, some also wonder given this new research if it is still relevant.

According to Eli Friedman, MD, FACC, a medical and sports cardiologist and the medical director of sports cardiology at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, the origin of 10,000 steps per day came from a Japanese company that made a device called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese.

This discovery was initially made by I-Min Lee, MBBS, MPH, ScD who later conducted a study to determine if walking 10,000 steps a day had a scientific basis for health, Dr. Friedman noted. “Although her research discovered there are numerous benefits from [as few as] 7,500 steps a day, the gold standard remains 10,000 steps.”

The key, he said is to get moving. With consistency, your intensity, distance, and quantity will increase. “If it is 8,000 steps—great. If it is only 4,000 steps at first, put the time and effort in to get it to 8,000 and beyond. It is a journey, not a destination.”

How Does Your Step Count Impact Your Health?

Getting in your steps has become a common mantra for people as they try to get moving and improve their health. But, research has shown that it is much more than just a buzzy phrase that fitness enthusiasts use—your step count can actually make a big impact on your overall health and wellness.

For instance, several studies have looked at the number of steps and the risks of dementia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, says Bradley Serwer, MD, FACC, an interventional cardiologist and the chief medical officer at CardioSolution.

“We see a proportional relationship to the number of steps [you take] and [its impact on] lowering your risk,” Dr. Serwer says. “Even 2,000 steps per day can lower your risk of premature death by almost 10% according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. This study...suggests that 10,000 steps per day is associated with a lower risk of mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.”

What's more, a study in JAMA Neurology—which looked at more than 78,000 patients aged 40 to 79 who wore wrist-based step meters—showed that those who were able to achieve nearly 10,000 steps per day had a significantly lower risk of dementia than their aged-matched cohorts, Dr. Serwer said. “It also appears that those that did it faster had a stronger association.”

And, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that changes in cardiorespiratory fitness—which improves the more steps you take—also can impact mortality risk for both those with cardiovascular disease and those without, he adds.

“Putting several of these studies together via a meta-analysis, it appears that increasing your average number of steps per day was associated with reduced mortality with an age-dependent plateau occurring between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day,” Dr. Serwer explained. “[As a result] one’s first goal, then, should merely be to get up and move.”

The more often you walk, the more you will be able to walk, he added. And, the more benefits you will reap in the process.

What Can You Do to Become More Active?

Most experts agree that reaching a daily step count is a good goal to have because it not only gets you moving, but if done consistently, it can increase your longevity and improve your overall health.

“Walking 10,000 steps a day equals roughly four to five miles of walking, which can be easily accomplished by staying mildly active,” said Danielle Kelvas, MD, a medical advisor for Speediance, an at-home gym provider. “As hunter-gatherers, we were never meant to be sedentary most of the day. The heart is a muscle—the more you exercise it, the more resilient it becomes when the body falls ill and comes under stress.”

Individuals can make small lifestyle changes to get more steps in. For instance, Dr. Friedman suggests skipping the elevator and taking the stairs. “If you need to go up many floors, mix the stairs and the elevator if it’s too much of a climb. When driving somewhere, park as far away as possible from your destination so you can get more steps in.”

He also suggests scheduling 20 minutes a day for a walk, noting that it doesn’t have to be at an intense pace. Instead, try walking at a conversational pace or making it a social activity with coworkers, friends, or family members.

“For those working from home, find several opportunities during the day to get up, get outside, and move around,” Dr. Friedman suggests. “Not only will this improve your health, but it will improve the quality and focus of your work as well.”

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  1. Inoue K, Tsugawa Y, Mayeda ER, Ritz B. Association of daily step patterns with mortality in US adultsJAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e235174. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.5174

  2. del Pozo Cruz B, Ahmadi MN, Lee IM, Stamatakis E. Prospective associations of daily step counts and intensity with cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and all-cause mortalityJAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(11):1139. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.4000

  3. del Pozo Cruz B, Ahmadi M, Naismith SL, Stamatakis E. Association of daily step count and intensity with incident dementia in 78,430 adults living in the UKJAMA Neurol. 2022;79(10):1059. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.2672

  4. Kokkinos P, Faselis C, Samuel IBH, et al. Changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and survival in patients with or without cardiovascular diseaseJ Am Coll Cardiol. 2023;81(12):1137-1147. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2023.01.027

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