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Study: More Steps Per Day Linked With Longer Life

Smiling senior couple walking outside for exercise and using a pedometer to count their steps

A new observational study shows that taking more steps each day – even if you walk at a regular pace – is linked with living longer. The results reinforce recommendations to sit less and move more throughout the day.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 4,840 American adults 40 and older who wore tracking devices for up to 7 days between 2003 and 2006. The researchers then followed them through 2015 using the National Death Index. They found:

  • Taking 8,000 steps a day was linked with a 51% lower risk of death from any cause compared with taking 4,000 steps a day.
  • Taking 12,000 steps a day was linked with a 65% lower risk than taking 4,000 steps a day.
  • There was no significant difference in death risk based on how fast people walked, only on the number of steps they took.

The study was published March 24, 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“While we knew physical activity is good for you, we didn’t know how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference,” said Pedro Saint-Maurice, PhD, first author of the study. “We wanted to investigate this question to provide new insights that could help people better understand the health implications of the step counts they get from fitness trackers and phone apps.”

Additional findings:

  • Higher step counts were associated with lower rates of death from heart disease and cancer.
  • Higher step counts were also associated with lower death rates from any cause among certain groups, including men, women, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Mexican Americans.

Walking is good for your health

The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (intense enough to make you breath harder and your heart beat faster) – or some combination of these each week. For people who haven’t exercised in a while, it makes sense to start slowly and build up gradually.

Walking for exercise can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, and improve your balance and coordination.

Another advantage to exercising is that it can replace some of the time you spend just sitting or lying around. Evidence is growing that sitting time, no matter how much exercise you get when you aren’t sitting, increases the likelihood of developing several types of cancer, as well as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults. Published March 24, 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. First author Pedro Saint-Maurice, PhD, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.