Is There a Magic Number of Steps You Should Take Each Day for Your Health?
A new piece from The New York Times Magazine weighs in.
If you're anything like me, some days, walking from the porch to the kitchen and back to the porch accounts for 90% of your daily steps. Other days, your Achilles tendons feel as if they logged a ten-mile stretch on the Appalachian Trail. But is there a certain daily steps goal you should aim for?
In a recent piece published in The New York Times Magazine, Kim Tingley takes a look at the topic and examined the research coducted by I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Not surprisingly, there's no clear-cut prescription for everyone. In fact, that daily benchmark of 10,000 steps you've likely heard may have somewhat arbitrary roots: "Many of her [Lee's] colleagues, she noticed, felt discouraged by a popular goal of 10,000 steps," writes Tingley. "But that figure, she learned, most likely comes from the word for pedometers sold in Japan since the 1960s, manpo-kei, which translates to '10,000 steps meter'— a number apparently chosen in part because the Japanese character for it looks like a walking man."
When Lee set out to discover the number of daily steps you should log to reap health benefits, she recruited 16,000+ female volunteers with an average age of 72. They wore accelerometers to log their walking for a week, and Lee checked back in with the study participants after about four years to see if they were still alive. Lee discovered that upping your daily steps by even a small amount reduced your risk of death, "and that, among the older women in her study, those benefits plateaued at about 7,500 steps per day. The least-active women averaged about 2,700 steps per day; those who averaged just 1,700 more than that, a difference of about a mile, were 41 percent less likely to die of any cause." In simpler terms, even if you're not that active, increasing your daily steps by a quick stroll in your neighborhood or by doing an errand by foot instead of via car can reduce your risk of death.
Indeed, Lee's research paints a compelling case for walking a substantial amount each day. Complicating matters further, however, is that researchers don't know if walking is better than other types of health-promoting activities like yoga, cardiovascular exercise like running or cycling, and lifting weights. Considering one recent study showed that exercise makes you happier than money, we'll hedge our bets and hit the gym or yoga studio.
WATCH: Regular Exercise Can Save You Thousands of Dollars Each Year
While there's no magic number of daily steps for all, regardless of your fitness level there is one takeaway for everyone from Tingley's evocative piece: Sit less, walk as much as you can, and then don't obsess over that number on your fitness tracker.
Unless, of course, you just walked a ten-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.