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Is 4,000 Steps the New 10,000 Steps?

More steps are better, but new research shows fewer steps still boost your odds of living longer


spinner image man checking the pedometer on his smartwatch to track the number of steps per day he has taken
FG Trade / Getty Images

If you find yourself falling short of your 10,000-steps-a-day goal, don’t fret. Even if your step count is less than half of this benchmark, a new study suggests you’re still reaping some serious health benefits.

Research published Aug. 9 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found walking just shy of 4,000 steps a day — 3,867, to be precise, or roughly 2 miles — can reduce your risk of dying from any cause, and taking 2,337 steps can lower your odds of dying from cardiovascular disease.

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What’s more, the risk of dying from any cause or from cardiovascular disease continues to decrease the more you walk. The researchers found an increase of 1,000 steps a day — that’s about 10 minutes of walking — was associated with a 15 percent reduction in dying from any cause; an increase in 500 steps was linked to a 7 percent reduction in dying from cardiovascular disease.

Ciaran Friel, an expert in physical activity and exercise behaviors at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, says the study reinforces what health experts know and routinely preach: “Movement is good,” he says.

Physical inactivity is a leading cause of disease and disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and it’s a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety. The WHO notes that inactivity is responsible for approximately 3.2 million deaths each year. In the U.S., about half of all adults don’t get enough exercise, federal data shows.

Friel, who was not involved in this new study, says the findings highlight the notion that any movement — even if you can’t make it to 10,000 daily steps — is better than nothing. And that increasing your activity from a low level to something more in small increments, like 500 steps, has its benefits.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that they’re not failing if they don’t get to 10,000 steps,” he says.

The more you move, the better

Previous research has shown that a range of step counts come with a host of health benefits. A study published in JAMA Neurology found that adults who achieved 9,800 steps per day were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia. Another study published in the journal Circulation found that older adults who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps each day had a 40 to 50 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who took 2,000.

In this latest analysis, which looked at 226,889 adults (average age 64) from 17 different studies around the world, the researchers identified a similar sweet spot. The risk reduction in death was 42 percent among adults 60 and older who walked between 6,000 and 10,000 steps a day and 49 percent among adults younger than 60 who walked between 7,000 and 13,000 steps a day. And, importantly, at no point did the perks start to taper. Even if people walked close to 20,000 steps a day, which was the upper limit studied, the health benefits continued to increase.

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“Our study confirms that the more you walk, the better,” lead researcher Maciej Banach, professor of cardiology at the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, said in a news release. “We found that this applied to both men and women, irrespective of age, and irrespective of whether you live in a temperate, subtropical or subpolar region of the world, or a region with a mixture of climates.”

It also shows that you don’t need expensive equipment or a gym membership to better your health. Walking is an accessible activity, Friel notes, and building an exercise program around it “is great.” So is working more bursts of activity into your everyday routine — whether that’s going out for a quick lap around the neighborhood or doing chores in the house. “Every little bit helps,” Friel says.

Wearable technology like smart watches and Fitbits can help you keep track of your steps. So can a basic pedometer — or even just keeping track of time. The average walking pace is about 20 minutes per mile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So walking for about 40 minutes should get you close to 4,000 steps.

Can’t walk for that long? Pointing to the study’s findings, Friel says walking 10 minutes more today than you did yesterday is a win.

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