19 Sep 2021

Why 7000 steps a day might be the new target for health

From Sunday Morning, 8:12 am on 19 September 2021

When it comes to walking, we're often told that 10,000 is the number of steps we need to be taking each day for health.

However, new research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that might not be the miracle number we should be striving for.

Led by physical activity epidemiologist Amanda Paluch, the researchers found that 7000 steps per day could be the new target for middle-aged people.

Woman runner showing feet and running shoes on track or road.

Photo: 123rf

Prof Paluch told Sunday Morning the association of steps and mortality was observed among more than 2000 people aged between 38 and 50 for about 11 years.

"We showed that those taking at least 7000 steps per day was associated with 50 to 70 percent lower risk of premature death compared to those who took less than 7000 steps per day.

"With each higher number of steps per day, you're getting an additional benefit in terms of lowering your risk of death.

"This was up to a certain point, so it started to level off at 10,000 steps per day."

The 10,000 steps a day theory stems from the mid-1960s when a Japanese company made a pedometer (the Manpo-kei) which roughly translated to '10,000 steps meter'.

But prof Paluch says there was no evidence to support that.

The research began from the 'Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults' study which began in the 1980s.

Then in 2005, some participants began to wear an accelerometer to record movement and that dataset was analysed for this latest piece of research, prof Paluch says.

"Another interesting thing about this study is ... it's also an equal distribution of black and white adults and men and women."

Another study from Harvard University suggested that even 4400 steps could be enough for older women.

"Perhaps there might be an age difference in terms of how many steps we need, but these are things we are hoping to continue to pursue in our research," prof Paluch says.

"All of these things are important factors to consider and it kind of demonstrates that this is still a little bit earlier in the field and so that perhaps ... we can't state a specific magic number right now but we're actively working on figuring out how many steps we need."

She hopes this research can give guidance to official advice on physical exercise.

"When we see there's incremental benefit, those numbers can be very motivating for a lot of individuals."

But to have the best quality of life, a holistic approach to your lifestyle is needed, she says.

"It's also incremental, so don't feel like you need to do it all at once either, thinking about those baby steps towards a healthier lifestyle."