How many steps a day should one take?

I wrote last year that the popular prescription that one should walk 10,000 steps a day in order to obtain the health benefits of activity originated as an advertising and marketing scheme and had no scientific basis. Research suggested that one did not need so many steps to get the benefit. But how many would be desirable?

This article summarizes some of the recent recommendations.

The good news for everyone is that the evidence is building to suggest that doing less than 10,000 steps is still good for your health. The most recent large study, led by the University of Massachusetts, followed over 2,000 middle-aged adults from different ethnic backgrounds over a period of 11 years. The researchers found that those taking at least 7,000 steps a day had a 50 to 70% lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those taking fewer than 7,000 steps a day.

Another interesting finding from the study was that the risk of dying was not associated with the step intensity. If two people did the same number of steps, the person doing them at a low intensity had no greater risk of dying compared with the person doing them at moderate intensity.

The results of the Massachusetts University study builds on the results from Harvard Medical School which showed that, on average, about 4,400 steps a day is enough to significantly lower mortality of older women during the study duration. However, these participants were older than the Massachusetts study (average age of 72), which might explain why a lower step rate reduced study death rates. Maybe older adults need less activity to gain similar health benefits.

After I got the app on my phone that tracks steps, I tried doing 10,000 steps a day and maintained that for a few months. But it took up too much time and I began to dread the effort required to maintain that goal. If you dislike an activity, there is a good chance that you will stop doing it, however good it is for you. So I lowered my goal to an average of about 6,000-7,000 steps a day and that seems to be very doable.

I am glad to see that it may be enough.

On my walks I see some younger people doing brisk walks at a pace that I cannot maintain so I was also glad to learn that low intensity walking was as effective as high intensity walking.


  1. Jean says

    When I see these types of studies, I always wonder if they’re mixing up cause and effect. In this case, is the number of steps taken the cause of the lower risk or is it the effect of an underlying condition that make people less able to do more or that the people who are in better condition to start with will be the ones doing more?

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    For me, exercise was never about longevity. It’s been about quality of life. Currently, if I get in three or four fairly intense workouts per week on my stationary bike (30 to 40 minutes each), plus some upper body exercises, I feel healthier, happier, more alert, and better able to cope with stress.

  3. says

    I agree with Mano about the correlation between enjoying an activity and doing it faithfully over time.

    I live near Seattle, WA, and we are surrounded by mountains, such as the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east. I hike 3 times a week in the mountains (mostly) east of Seattle. Mountain hikes are a terrific workout. I am almost 70, retired and able to get out about as often as I like.

    What I want to point out is that hiking is an indescribably fun thing to do. I don’t do it because it is good for me. I do it because it is like being a kid again and instead of pretending you are having an adventure, you are having an adventure IRL.

    IMO, looking, not for the most robust way to exercise, but for a fun activity that also happens to be good for you, might be a good way to go about it.

  4. says

    To quote Covert Bailey, author of “Fit Or Fat”, the best exercise is the one you’re willing to do. It doesn’t matter how efficient or beneficial an exercise is. If you hate it, you won’t do it. I hate running because of the impact, but I love cycling.

    McMaster University released a study in 2016 showing that in weight lifting, only the total weight matters. Lifting a 10kg bar 50 times has the same effect as lifting a 20kg bar 25 times. The only difference is one takes longer.

  5. Mano Singham says

    I think that what joelgrant says applies in general.

    For example, very often people are nagged to do more exercise in order to lose weight. I think that is not helpful. When they do not lose weight as quickly as they expected to, they may give up the exercise routine. People should be encouraged to take up more athletic activities that are enjoyable and fun to do. In doing so, they may lose weight or they may not, but that is an incidental effect. The real benefit lies, as Rob @#2 says, in feeling “healthier, happier, more alert, and better able to cope with stress.” That feeling of enjoyment is what will keep them persisting and improving their quality of life.

  6. John Morales says

    My solution is simple.
    I have a dog.
    He likes walkies.
    I don’t like an unhappy puppy.
    So I walk him.

  7. lochaber says

    I started a new job a couple years back, and one of the appeals was that it looked like it was suitable for a bicycle commute.

    I was really inactive for most of a decade previous, so I really eased into the commute -- taking the bike in on public transit, and riding home a couple days a week, and taking public transit both ways other days. Eventually moved up to taking public transit in the morning, and cycling home everyday, and now I’m finally doing a full commute -- cycling in to work in the morning, and back home again. I’ll sometimes take public transit if I get a flat or it’s raining or similar.

    I think it’s been pretty good for my mood, and my gut has receeded a bit, which is a nice benefit. And it’s saving me a bit over a hundred a month in transit fees. Hasn’t quite paid for the bike yet, but it’s getting there…

  8. Ridana says

    I love biking, but every bike I’ve ever owned has been stolen, no matter what I do. After I lost two in 3 months, I gave up.

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