Adults May Benefit from Fewer than 10K Steps a Day

Study: Up to age 59, the risk of dying decreases as the number of steps increase, up to 8K-10K steps/day. After age 60, benefits level off at 6K-8K steps/day.

Researchers: Amanda Paluch, PhD, with Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH and Alpa Patel, PhD
Institution: University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the American Cancer Society
Area of Focus: Physical Activity Epidemiology, Population Science

Alpa Patel, PhD

Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH

“Right now there are no public health guidelines that recommend the number of steps to take a day to gain health benefits. The World Health Organization, The US Physical Activity Guidelines, and the American Cancer Society guidelines all focus on being physically active at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity for at least 150 minutes a week. We haven’t had the scientific evidence to recommend the number of steps per day associated with health benefits.
“In this study, we found consistent associations across 15 studies from various countries, age ranges, and step-monitoring devices, which gives us more confidence that there’s a clear link between taking more steps and having a lower risk of dying from all causes. This paper in itself cannot set a number of steps to take a day, but we’re hoping that this study will provide some useful evidence when future public health guidelines are developed.”
—Amanda Paluch, PhD

The Challenge:  10,000. That’s the number of steps to take each day that’s widely promoted as the best number for overall health. Yet there’s little scientific evidence to support that recommendation.

In fact, it’s thought that the number started in Japan, 1965, with a marketing campaign for a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.”

Of course, there’s plenty of scientific evidence that physical activity can reduce your chances of developing and dying from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer.

And monitoring the number of steps taken each day has continually become easier and more and more trendy with the use of fitness trackers and mobile devices. So, it could be very helpful to learn through science the best number of steps to take, and at what speed, based on your age and sex.

The Research: The Steps for Health Collaborative is an international consortium formed to determine the link between health outcomes and the number of steps taken a day and the pace. Two of its members are from the American Cancer Society (ACS): Senior Vice President of Population Science, Alpa Patel, PhD, and Senior Principal Scientist of Epidemiology and Behavioral Research, Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH.

In a study published in Lancet Public Health, led by Amanda E. Paluch, PhD, at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the consortium reported findings based on the analysis of 15 studies from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America, which included 47,471 adults and 3,013 deaths. This included data from ACS's own CPS-3 cohort. They were looking for the best range of steps to take a day associated with a reduced risk of dying from all causes.

To strengthen the reliability of their findings, the researchers’ applied a standardized method for data across all the studies.

They found:

  • Compared with adults who take the lowest number of steps—about 3,500 steps/day—adults taking the most steps—about 6,000 to 10,000 steps/day—have a 40% to 53% lower risk of dying from all causes.
  • The least active people have the biggest decrease in their risk of death, even when they only moderately increase their number of steps—such as adding 1,000 to 2,000 more a day over time. (So making those early efforts has a big payoff for your health!)
  • Men and women up to age 59 who take more steps a day increasingly lower the risk of dying from all causes—up to about 8,000 to 10,000 steps/day. But taking more isn’t necessarily bad. Researchers did not find that taking more than 10,000 steps a day increased the risk of dying.
  • People ages 60 and older who take more steps—up to 6,000 to 8,000 steps /day—have a lower risk of dying from all causes.
  • Evidence was inconsistent about how the speed or pace of walking affects the risk of dying.

The authors said future studies should promote and monitor steps in populations who have a higher risk of dying because of a chronic disease, including cancer, having low socioeconomic status, or being a part of a higher-risk race/ethnicity group.

Why Does It Matter? The findings of the Steps for Health Collaboration suggest health benefits, particularly for older adults, can be seen at lower number of steps than the popularized goal of 10,000 steps a day. Their results can be used to help inform updated guidelines for the public health promotion of physical activity.