For decades, many of us have believed that we need to take at least 10,000 steps each day to remain healthy and boost our longevity. The "magic" number was used in a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer, unveiled during a fitness craze there as the country prepared to host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Exercising regularly was promoted as having numerous health benefits, including a reduction of hypertension, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, strokes, and more. And walking was the easist way to get exercise in, with no special equipment or training required.
There’s even a Japanese word meaning "10,000 steps." It’s called Manpo-kei.
Fast forward to today, when wearable fitness trackers are the new norm and 10,000 steps is usually the default goal setting. But a new study has revealed that people don’t necessarily need to take so many steps per day. Researcher I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital says, "The original basis of the number was not scientifically determined." Lee and her colleagues conducted a study that followed about 17,000 older women, with an average age of 72, while wearable devices tracked their steps during their normal daily activities.
Lee was surprised by the study’s findings, which indicate that "women who averaged approximately 4,400 steps/[day] had significantly lower mortality rates during a follow-up of 4.3 years compared with the least active women who took approximately 2,700 steps/[day]." In fact, the researchers found that the benefits of walking maxed out around 7,500 steps per day.
Other health experts were happy to hear this news. At the University of Iowa, Kathleen Janz researches the correlation between health and exercise. "To me, this study suggests there’s more benefit to light activity than we were previously thinking there might be," she told NPR. There’s no "need to go the gym or invest in a personal trainer or exercise equipment," making it easier for aging people to get in a healthy amount of exercise each day.
The takeaway from this information is that people should still aim for plenty of movement each day, but not to be overly focused on that lofty goal of 10,000 steps.