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Want to Live Longer? Walk This Far Every Day, Says Research

Here's why you don't need to aspire to reach 10,000 steps every single day.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

You've probably heard before that you should be walking 10,000 steps per day to live a long and healthy life. That equates to roughly four to five miles—depending on your size and your gait. It's a lofty goal, for sure, and good for you if you're able to pound out 10,000 steps every 24 hours. But luckily for those of us who don't have the time to hit that number of steps, the "10,000" benchmark is actually more myth—and marketing ploy—than legitimate health advice.

That's right, the "10,000 steps per day" myth likely originated back in 1965 as part of a marketing campaign for a Japanese clock. Sure, it is true that some research since then has backed up the 10,000 step approach to better health, but even more have found holes in the theory. So, how many steps per day is ideal? For women specifically, a recent study from Harvard Medical School is offering up a more accurate (and achievable) recommendation, and the best news is that you don't have to get to 10,000 steps to walk your way to a longer life. So read on, and for more great walking tips, see here for the Secret Tricks for Walking Your Way to a Flatter Stomach, Say Experts.

1

The magic number

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The research concludes a much more doable goal of roughly 4,400 steps per day is enough to "significantly" lower a woman's risk of death. Notably, study authors mention that the mortality-delaying benefits of a daily walk tend to level off at around 7,500 steps. In other words, there is little health upside to walking 10,000 steps instead of 7,500. This study only focused on women, so these findings can't be applied to men.

"Clearly, even a modest number of steps was related to lower mortality rate among these older women. We hope these findings provide encouragement for individuals for whom 10,000 steps a day may seem unattainable," says the co-author of the study I-Min Lee, MBBS, ScD, an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. For more amazing benefits of walking, see why Walking This Way Can Add 20 Years to Your Life, Says Top Scientist.

2

If you're short on time

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Life moves fast, and many readers probably don't have the time for even a 4,000-step stroll. If you fall into that category, try to get in just seven minutes of brisk walking accomplished per day. A study published in The Lancet Global Health found that a seven-minute brisk walk instead of a slower, 12-minute stroll can cut mortality risk by up to a third among adults who rarely exercise. This wasn't a small study either; over 90,000 people had their walking habits tracked for more than two years.

3

The best time to take a walk

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Maybe you've never been a habitual walker before, but recently decided to make a change. When is the best time to go for a trek? According to a study from 2016, going for just a 10-minute walk right after eating helped foster lower blood sugar levels. Getting the body moving after a meal assists with nutrient absorption and helps lower your body's insulin response.

4

But avoid walking in these places

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Walking is rarely a poor choice, but there are some places you should avoid walking if given the option. Do your best to get your steps in greener areas, surrounded by nature and wildlife. Not only has tons of research linked time spent in green spaces to better mental and physical health, but taking a stroll in the city isn't ideal. A study published in The Lancet actually concluded that people who walk in polluted, urban areas don't reap the same cardiovascular benefits as others walking in more rural regions. And for more on the health benefits of walking, see how This One Walking Exercise Can Predict Your Risk of Early Death.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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