If you have a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, you’re already well aware of that most coveted and enviable goal of 10,000 steps a day. What you’re probably less aware of is the fact that the walking goal meant to encourage you to be more active throughout the day actually originated as a marketing ploy in the 1960s by a Japanese pedometer manufacturer.
The truth is you don’t need 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy—and the actual number of steps is actually far lower.
A comprehensive analysis published Tuesday in the journal European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that walking at least 3,967 steps a day reduced the risk of dying from any cause. The authors also found that as little as 2,337 steps a day reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
However, they also found that overall health improved the more you walked each day as well—with fitness benefits improving even if you walked as much as 20,000 steps each day. The findings apply across genders, age, and regions of the world you live in.
“Our study confirms that the more you walk, the better,” lead author Maciej Banach, a cardiology professor at the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, said in a statement. He added that the study “indicates that as little as 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce deaths from any cause, and even fewer to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.”
The paper looked at 17 studies across the globe that included nearly 227,000 participants. The researchers discovered that the risk of dying from any cause dropped dramatically with every 500 to 1000 extra steps a person walks. Every 500 steps was linked to a 7 percent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases while 1000 steps was linked to a 15 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause.
Additionally, researchers have yet to discover a ceiling for the health benefits. However, the authors did caution that there was limited data available for step counts up to 20,000 steps a day. More research will be needed in order to find out the most optimal amount of steps to take each day in order to get the most health benefits.
While the paper said that there are benefits regardless of gender, age, and location of participants, it did note that people younger than 60 years old saw a much larger reduced risk in death. Adults older than 60 showed a 42 percent reduction in death risk when walking between 6,000 and 10,000 steps a day. However, younger adults had a 49 percent reduction in death risk when walking between 7,000 and 13,000 steps a day.
There were a few limitations to keep in mind though. For one, it’s just an observational study so it hasn’t proved conclusively that walking more and increasing your step count will decrease your risk of death. The study’s participants were also healthy when the studies were conducted, so it didn’t account for disease and illnesses. The paper also didn’t factor in race and socioeconomic status of the participants—two factors that have been shown to be linked to adverse health events.
However, the paper underscores the importance and outsized impact that living a slightly more active lifestyle could have on human health. It also adds to the body of research showing the harms of a sedentary lifestyle. For example, a 2020 paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that more sedentary time was linked to increased risk of death.
“We still need good studies to investigate whether these benefits may exist for intensive types of exertion, such as marathon running and iron man challenges, and in different populations of different ages, and with different associated health problems,” Banach said. “However, it seems that, as with pharmacological treatments, we should always think about personalizing lifestyle changes.”