Lower Mortality With Fewer Than 10,000 Steps a Day
Lower Mortality With Fewer Than 10,000 Steps a Day

By Ellen Wan

Walking 10,000 steps daily can enhance overall health, particularly for individuals with a sedentary lifestyle. However, research has shown that different age groups may require varying step counts for optimal benefits.

Offsetting Sedentary Risks With Daily Steps

In March 2024, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study involving more than 70,000 participants with an average age of 61. The researchers used smart wristbands to monitor their daily sedentary time and steps, revealing an average of 6,222 steps per day.

Over a follow-up period of about 7 years, researchers found that for individuals who sat for more than 10.5 hours per day, walking 9,000 to 10,000 steps daily reduced their risk of mortality by 39 percent and the incidence of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. Walking 10,000 steps a day is particularly important for sedentary individuals, as it can offset the negative impacts of prolonged sitting.

There is no need to feel discouraged if you are unable to reach a daily step count of 10,000. This study found that walking 4,000 to 4,500 steps per day can still provide half the benefits of reduced mortality and cardiovascular disease risk.

Another study also found that walking 10,000 steps was associated with a decline in various fatal diseases. In addition to cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, findings showed a reduced risk of mortality from 13 types of cancer.

Optimal Step Counts Differ by Age

The optimal number of steps needed to reduce the risk of mortality may vary with age—for instance. older people do not necessarily need to walk 10,000 steps daily to obtain the benefits of increased longevity.

I-Min Lee, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and other experts analyzed the walking habits of 16,741 women with an average age of 72 and their mortality rates. Over a 4.3-year follow-up period, women who walked an average of approximately 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who walked about 2,700 steps per day. For those who walked more than 4,400 steps per day, the mortality rate progressively decreased as the daily step count increased, leveling off at around 7,500 steps per day, with no further significant decrease in mortality rate with additional steps.

Ms. Lee, the study’s lead author, stated in an article on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website that while the idea of “walking 10,000 steps” is popular, it should not be the goal for everyone, as it may discourage those who are not regular exercisers. For sedentary individuals, even small increases in physical activity in daily life can bring significant health benefits.

In another article, Ms. Lee mentioned that many people already walk about 5,000 steps a day through everyday activities such as shopping and housework. By adding an additional 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day—equivalent to half an hour of exercise—they would achieve the optimal daily step count of 7,000 to 8,000 steps.

A 2022 meta-analysis published in The Lancet Public Health suggested that people of different age groups should aim for different daily step counts. The study analyzed 47,471 individuals and found that for those aged 60 and above, walking between 6,000 and 8,000 steps per day could maximize the benefits of reducing mortality. For those under 60, walking 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day could help avoid premature death.

Another observational study involving 4,840 individuals with an average age of 57 showed that compared to those who walked 4,000 steps per day, those who walked 8,000 and 12,000 steps per day experienced a 51 percent and 65 percent lower all-cause mortality rate, respectively.

Japanese Expert: Interval Walking Method

Hiroshi Nose, an associate professor at the Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, has developed a new exercise called “interval walking,” which alternates between fast and slow walking. Mr. Nose believes that to improve endurance, one needs to engage in moderately challenging exercise for a certain period. This type of exercise is characterized by an increased heart rate and rapid breathing after about two minutes, followed by profuse sweating after about five minutes.

Interval walking is a form of exercise that alternates between brisk walking, which stresses the body appropriately to enhance muscle strength, and slow walking, which provides a more relaxed pace. This approach helps those unaccustomed to exercise maintain consistency.

How to Interval Walk

  1. Keep your back straight, gently tuck in your chin, and look ahead about 80 feet.
  2. Begin brisk walking by taking big steps. When your front foot touches the ground with the heel, push off with the toes of your back foot, making your stride three to five centimeters longer than usual.
  3. Swing your right arm forward as your left foot steps forward, and your left arm forward as your right foot steps forward. This motion helps stabilize your waist and maintain balance while taking long strides.
  4. Walk briskly for three minutes, then walk at a slower pace (your usual walking speed) for three minutes to complete one set.

Mr. Nose recommends doing the above exercise for a minimum of five sets (30 minutes total) per day, at least four days a week. If you have limited free time during the day, you can divide it into 10-minute sessions in the morning, afternoon, and evening. If weekdays are hectic, you can also complete 20 sets on the weekend, totaling 120 minutes.

Hsu Chin-Hsing, a professor from the Department of Recreational Sport and Health Promotion at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in Taiwan, explained on the website of Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare that “interval” refers to a training method that utilizes different exercise intensities. The main goal of interval training is to improve cardiovascular function and the body’s ability to tolerate and eliminate lactic acid.

Mr. Hsu noted that people can tailor the interval training to suit their fitness levels, using ratios like 1:3 (30 seconds of jogging followed by 90 seconds of walking), 1:2 (30 seconds of jogging or brisk walking followed by 60 seconds of walking), or 1:1 (30 seconds of brisk walking followed by 30 seconds of walking).

Essential Tips for Brisk Walking

Dr. Lin Tsung-Ching, a physician in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Far Eastern Memorial Hospital in Taiwan, wrote on the hospital’s website that walking can enhance social interactions, improve sleep quality, uplift mood, and promote overall health.

Dr. Lin also stressed the importance of using proper walking techniques and maintaining good posture to avoid injuries. Here are some key points to keep in mind while walking:

  1. Keep your body upright and extended while walking.
  2. Keep your head upright and look straight ahead with a relaxed neck.
  3. Relax your shoulders, keeping them down and back, and avoid hunching.
  4. Engage your core slightly and flatten your lower back.
  5. Cup your hands loosely and let them swing naturally back and forth, but not higher than the shoulders.
  6. Walk at a natural pace (without deliberately long strides).
  7. While walking, aim to land on your heels first and then lift off from the toes, pushing off the ground with force.

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