Walking is one of the simplest and most accessible forms of physical activity, and it can bring a wide range of health benefits. For many years, health experts have recommended taking at least 10,000 steps daily to maintain good health and prevent various health problems.
We've all heard the phrase "10,000 steps a day" as a benchmark for better health, but a recent study suggests that half that number may be enough. The study, published in May 2019 by JAMA Internal Medicine, found that older women who took as few as 4,400 steps per day were associated with a 41% lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those who walked 2,500 steps a day or fewer.
This is great news for those who find the idea of 10,000 steps daunting. "I'm not discounting 10,000 steps a day," says study lead author Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "For those who can get to 10,000 steps per day, that's fantastic." But the idea that older women can see health benefits with a more modest number of steps was a welcome surprise.
This number, 10,000, originated from a Japanese company's marketing tool in 1965. The company, Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company, sold a pedometer called "Manpo-kei," which means "10,000 steps meter" in Japanese. The number 10,000 was chosen because it looks like a person walking when written in Japanese.
The recent study by Dr. Lee and her colleagues looked at 16,741 women (average age 72) who participated in the Women's Health Study. Between 2011 and 2015, each woman wore a device for seven days to track her movement. Researchers found that death rates were highest among the most sedentary women in the study but lower among women who reached 4,400 steps daily. Rates continued to decline in women who took steps beyond that number, up to 7,500 steps a day. After that, the mortality rates levelled off.
The study has important implications for Canadians facing a growing crisis of physical inactivity. According to Statistics Canada, only 15% of Canadian adults meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The good news is that even small increases in movement can pay off. "Just adding a very modest number of steps a day — say, an extra 2,000 steps — can be very beneficial," explains Dr. Lee. "One does not need to get to 10,000 steps a day." Any movement counts, so these extra 2,000 steps could be steps you take doing a whole range of activities in daily life, and not necessarily for exercise. Clean the house, run errands at the mall, or take a quick walk on the treadmill. Adding extra steps can be as simple as changing your daily habits.
Fear not if you are not getting the 10,000 steps a day in. The recent study by Dr. Lee and her colleagues found that older women who took as few as 4,400 steps per day were associated with a 41% lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those who walked 2,500 steps a day or fewer. This is great news for those who find 10,000 steps daunting, and it has important implications for Canadians facing a growing physical inactivity crisis.
So, let's all make an effort to move more, even if it's just a few extra steps a day.