For many people, a goal in itself is to take ten thousand steps a day. However, fewer steps already yield maximal risk reductions for mortality and cardiovascular diseases, according to a study performed by Radboud university medical center. This study, for the first time, provides clear information on the minimum and optimal number of steps to gain health benefits.
Let me check the number of steps I have taken today. Is it fewer than ten thousand? I will need to take a quick stroll around the block then. Sounds familiar? Actually, those ten thousand steps are not required, according to research by Radboud university medical center. Fewer steps yield similar health benefits, at least in terms of the risk of death and cardiovascular diseases. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we should be less active, emphasize the researchers.
The scientists analyzed data from twelve international studies involving over 110,000 participants. The results indicate that the risk of death does not decrease further beyond 8800 steps a day. For cardiovascular disease, no additional risk reduction is observed beyond 7100 steps. Researcher Niels Stens explains: ‘The idea of ten thousand steps originates from Japan in the 1960s’. 'Ten thousand step counter’ is the literal translation of the first commercial pedometer. But the figure of ten thousand is not based on scientific research.'
The results of the Nijmegen study are in line with recent other studies, showing that health benefits plateau at less than ten thousand steps. ‘What sets our study apart is that we provide clear step targets for the first time’, explains Stens. ‘We show that measurable health benefits can be obtained by walking about 2500 steps per day. And that every 500 additional steps further improve your health. This is good news because not everyone can walk nearly nine thousand steps a day.’
The study does not reveal any differences between men and women. Walking faster is better though, regardless of the total number of steps per day. It does not matter how you count your steps either. Whether you use a smartwatch, a wrist-worn activity tracker, or a smartphone in your pocket: the step targets are the same. This allows a very large group of people to accurately count their steps.
So, should we stop walking after taking around nine thousand steps? ‘No’, says study lead Thijs Eijsvogels. ‘More steps are not worse in any case. Furthermore, our study only investigated the influence on the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular diseases. Walking, or exercise in general, provides many more benefits. Think, for example, of improved sleep quality and mental health. And it is enjoyable too!’
‘Our study provides people clear and easily measurable goals’, continues Eijsvogels. The (inter)national Physical Activity Guidelines suggests adults to perform one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. But most individuals do not know which exercises count as moderately intense, making it challenging to check adherence to the exercise norm. Counting steps is way simpler, especially since most people have a smartphone or a smartwatch nowadays. So, I think that step count targets would be a useful addition to contemporary physical activity guidelines.’
About the publication
This study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Relationship of Daily Step Counts to All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events. N.A. Stens, E.A. Bakker, A. Mañas, L.M. Buffart, F.B. Ortega, D. Lee, P.D. Thompson, D.H.J. Thijssen, T.M.H. Eijsvogels. DOI:10.1016/j.jacc.2023.07.029.
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