It’s a question people have wondered for decades: How many steps should you be taking every day?
A new, peer-reviewed study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that 7,000 steps a day could be a solid benchmark for middle-aged adults, rather than the oft-cited number of 10,000.
The study, which began tracking participants in 2005, found there was a 50% to 70% lower risk of premature death from all causes for people who crossed that 7,000-steps-a-day threshold, compared with those who logged fewer steps.
The study tracked 2,110 people 38 to 50 years old, following them for an average of nearly 11 years.
While the 7,000-step milestone stood out, experts say that simply improving on your current step count can make a difference.
The conventional goal of 10,000 steps was more of a ”marketing tool” than anything, said Dr. I-Min Lee, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on physical activity. A Japanese company released a step-tracking device in the 1960s called the “10,000 steps meter,” encouraging users to reach the milestone, and the number caught on.
A 2019 study by Lee found that a higher number of steps is linked to lower mortality rates until you get to about 7,500 a day.
The latest study, published in September, found that getting in more steps a day wsn’t associated with a greater reduction in premature mortality risk.
Dr. Nicole Spartano, a research assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, thinks we need clearer guidance on how many steps a day are needed. There’s a common misconception that exercise is limited to moderate-to-intense workout activities like running or biking, Spartano said. Establishing a national barometer of daily steps might help reshape how people view activity and also make the guidelines more reachable for those who can’t participate in moderate or intense workouts.
“It’s important that we can provide achievable goals for people who are doing very little activity,” Spartano said.
An effective way to establish more achievable goals, she said, is for the messaging to come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” a set of health practices issued originally in 2008 and updated in 2018.
The guidelines don’t have a step goal but tell adults to move more and sit less, saying “some physical activity is better than none.”
Forming a daily step count milestone for all Americans is the “ultimate goal,” especially as more people track health progress using fitness-trackers, said Amanda Paluch, a University of Massachusetts Amherst epidemiologist who is an authority on the measurement of physical activity.
Paluch and Spartano said more research on step counts would help figure out whether — and, if so, how — higher step counts might be linked to other health outcomes besides premature mortality, such as helping to improve the health of people with diabetes, Alzheimer’s and mental health.
In the meantime, Paluch said, it can’t hurt to get more steps in.
“If you’re at 4,000, try to get to 5,000,” she said. “If you’re at 5,000, try to get to 6,000. You can find little ways to fit more steps into your life.”
Read more at usatoday.com