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The Real Number of Steps You Need a Day — It’s a Lot Less Than 10,000

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If you’ve got a fitness tracker, you’ve probably felt that grand sense of accomplishment when your wrist buzzes at the count of 10,000 steps. The “goal” on these devices is typically set to this number, and it’s been drilled into our heads that 10,000 steps a day equals optimal health. We’ve grown accustomed to celebrating this buzz — and beating ourselves up when we miss the mark —  but new research suggests that the magic number of steps may actually be a lot smaller.

So where did 10,000 come from, anyway? NPR reported that 10K came from a marketing campaign for a Japanese fitness tracker many years ago, and was never “scientifically determined.” With this in mind, researcher I-Min Lee from Brigham and Women’s Hospital set out to determine how much walking someone actually needs to do a day in order to boost their health and longevity. 

The study, published in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, included data from 17,000 women, with an average age of 72. Each was asked to wear a fitness tracker which counted steps during waking hours for seven days. The researchers analyzed the walking data along with mortality data collected four years later, and what they found was quite surprising.

Results showed that women who took as little as 4,400 steps per day were able to boost their longevity significantly. And even more surprisingly, the researchers found that the benefits of walking plateaued at 7,500 steps! Subjects who walked more than this experienced the same life-saving benefits. This is good news considering that 10,000 steps is an ambitious number.

All in all, these findings, though surprising, do correspond with other research which suggests the amount of exercise we actually need for a longer life may be less than we originally thought. Back in April, another study found that just 10 to 59 minutes of leisurely exercise a week was enough to help you live longer. That’s it!

So if you haven’t been able to reach your step goal as of late, don’t beat yourself up. This study reminds us that even the smallest amount of physical activity can have great benefits for our health and quality of life, especially as we age. Getting out for a light stroll or even simply dancing around your living room will keep you feeling young and energized, so get moving in any way you can! 

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