How Many Steps Should You Take in a Day? A New Study Says Less Than You Think

Is 10,000 steps a day still the golden standard?

By Brittany Leitner
woman walking

Living in New York City, it's easy to get my steps in on any given day. I have to walk a few blocks to get my lunch, to catch my train, and to get to my office after the train pulls into my stop. But for someone who lives in a more suburban area where having a car is the key to getting anywhere, getting your steps in can seem like an intimidating challenge. Of course, getting some kind of exercise is important for men and women of any age, but how many steps should you take in a day to be considered "healthy"? According to new research, that answer could be less than you think.

For years, 10,000 steps was the magic number you were told to aim for in your fitness trackers, but a 2019 study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital found contrasting evidence. The study followed 16 ,741 mostly white American women with an average age of 72, and measured their steps seven days a week for four years, from 2011 to 2015. Though this study was only conducted on older women of mostly the same race, it reveals a lot about how any amount of movement — no matter how small — can make a huge impact on your health. The main lesson doctors want people of any age to take advantage of? Just get moving.

Taking 4,400 to 5,900 Steps

It turns out, researchers aren't even sure where the 10,000 number originally comes from. According to the Brigham study, published by JAMA Internal Medicine, "It likely derives from the trade name of a pedometer sold in 1965 by Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company in Japan called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10 000 steps meter” in Japanese." It was definitely time for some updated research on this subject.

Researchers found that women who took around 4,400 steps per day in the four-year time span lowered their risk of dying by 41 percent, compared to women who only took around 2,000 steps per day. Even greater, if women averaged 5,900 steps per day, their risk of dying dropped 46 percent.

Taking 7,500 to 8,500 Steps

Remember that study that came out a few years ago that said any income above $75,000 will have no effect on your happiness, but if your income was lower than $75,000, your happiness was directly impacted? This is kind of like that. 

Women who took 7,500 steps per day had the lowest risk of dying, but that's where it kind of leveled off. If women took over 7,500 steps per day, their risk of dying didn't continue to drop lower and lower — making 7,500 the new 10,000, if you will. Those who took 7,500 - 8,500 (the highest amount tracked for the study), saw around a 58 percent lower risk of dying, post-study.

It Didn't Matter How Fast the Steps Were

According to the study, "Number of steps, rather than stepping intensity, was the step metric consistently related to lower mortality rates." Fast walking, or walking uphill vs. on a steady plane didn't make much of a difference. The point is, any amount of movement and walking was beneficial to the women who participated in the study. Additionally, the study's lead author, Dr. I-Min Lee told HealthDay News, "Our message is not a new message: Physical activity is good for you. What's new and striking is how little you need to do to make a difference."

The average American takes between 4,000 and 5,000 steps per day, so increasing it just a little bit more can have huge health benefits. Leaders of the study hope that this news will encourage Americans — both men and women — to start moving without the intimidating number of 10,000 being held over their heads. The next time you go to the store park a little farther away or circle the block with your partner or dog when you get home from work. Making these small changes can have huge impacts on your health in the long run.

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Article written by Brittany Leitner