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Scientists Finally Did a Study to See If Taking 10,000 Steps a Day Actually Matters. Here’s What They Found

The goal of 10,000 steps a day came from a Japanese marketing campaign. New research offers another goal.

Whether it was from a blog post or the instruction manual of your new wearable health device, you’ve probably heard along the way that taking 10,000 steps a day is good for you. if you’re an entrepreneur keen to maximize your health, energy, and productivity you probably took that advice on board

It makes sense, after all. Exercise is clearly good for your physical and mental health. And 10,000 has a nice, scientific ring to it. But what that pamphlet or article touting 10,000 steps didn’t tell you is that, up to now at least, that number had absolutely no research behind it. It was actually dreamed up for a Japanese marketing campaign. 

Getting up and moving more is a good idea. But science had no idea if there was a magic number of steps for health or what it might be. So a team out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst set out to fix that, finally conducting a study to determine how many steps you really should aim for. 

10,000 isn’t a magic number

The research, which was recently published in JAMA Network Open, followed 2,110 middle-aged adults who had worn a step-counting fitness device in 2005 or 2006 for the next eleven years. Were those who managed 10,000 steps a day less likely to meet an untimely end, or did some other number seem matter more? 

The researchers determined, as expected, that getting more exercise is good. Six thousand steps beats 5,000 and 5,000 beats 4,000 for health outcomes. But they didn’t find anything particularly special about 10,000 steps (except going much beyond it brought no health additional benefits at all). Instead 7,000 steps seemed to be an important inflection point. Taking that many steps reduced participants’ chance of premature death by 50 to 70 percent. 

“7,000 steps a day may be a great goal for many individuals who are currently not achieving this amount,” study leader Amanda Paluch commented

Other reasons you might want to walk more

That doesn’t mean that there’s no reason you might want to walk more. The more you move the more calories you burn, so if your goal is losing weight, longer walks are likely to be more effective. And on the cognitive side, a huge amount of research shows that walking can help improve your creativity, and may even help keep your brain young. Plus, it’s a big, beautiful world out there. On your feet is a great way to explore it. 

But if your aim is simply to stay healthy and reduce your chances of an untimely end, this study shows there’s nothing magical about the number 10,000. If your fitness device says you managed less steps than that one day, don’t feel obligated to trudge around the block in the dark until you hit your daily target. When it comes to maintaining health 7,000 steps will do just fine. 

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