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Do you really need 10,000 steps a day for good health?

A woman's fitness tracker results are shown: heart rate of 120 bpm, a time of 55:08, 508 calories and 10,000 steps.

Jan. 6, 2022—

Are you thinking of taking up walking this year? If so, counting steps with a pedometer or phone fitness app is a good way to track your progress. But that goal of 10,000 daily steps you may have heard about? It turns out you can get health perks even if you take fewer steps than that.

A study published online in JAMA Network Open is one of the most recent to demonstrate this. In the study, 2,110 men and women wore devices that counted their daily steps for one year. Researchers then followed them for about 10 years.

Here's what they found: People who took at least 7,000 daily steps were up to 70% less likely to die early from any cause compared to those who tallied fewer footfalls. Taking more than 10,000 steps a day didn't provide any additional reduction in risk of dying early.

Counting steps or minutes?

If counting steps motivates you to be active, that's probably a good thing. But you don't have to count 10,000 or even 7,000 steps to get fitness benefits. And it may surprise you to know that marketers, not scientists, came up with the 10,000-step goal.

U.S. health authorities use minutes, not steps, in their recommendations about how much exercise to get. They suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) each week. You should aim for that weekly goal no matter how many steps you take. (Check with your doctor if you're not sure how much exercise is right for you.)

Walking has a number of health benefits. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular, brisk walking can help you:

  • Have a reduced risk for such conditions as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Unwind, have fun and manage stress.

No matter how many steps or minutes of exercise you accumulate every day or week, the main thing is to get moving. Any amount of activity is better than none, according to the National Institutes of Health.

How fast is fast enough?

For health benefits, experts often say we should work up to a brisk pace. But what does that mean? Find out.

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