There's nothing magical about the number 10,000.
In fact, the idea of walking at least 10,000 steps a day for health goes back decades to a marketing1 campaign launched in Japan to promote a pedometer. And, in subsequent years, it was adopted in the US as a goal to promote good health. It's often the default setting on fitness trackers, but what's it really based on?
"The original basis of the number was not scientifically determined," says researcher I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
She was curious to know how many steps you need to take a day to maintain good health and live a long life, so she and her colleagues designed a study that included about 17,000 older women. Their average age was 72. The women all agreed to clip on wearable devices to track their steps as they went about their day-to-day activities.
It turns out that women who took about 4,000 steps per day got a boost in longevity2, compared with women who took fewer steps. "It was sort of surprising," Lee says.
In fact, women who took 4,400 steps per day, on average, were about 40 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period of about four years compared with women who took 2,700 steps. The findings were published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Another surprise: The benefits of walking maxed out at about 7,500 steps. In other words, women who walked more than 7,500 steps per day saw no additional boost in longevity.
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