A recent review by cardiologist Christopher Labos from Montreal stated that any physical activity is better than doing nothing.
He reviewed why today most health websites state that 10,000 steps per day would be the desired standard. He noted that this recommendation originated from a Japanese company, Yamasa Tokei. They began selling a new step-counter in 1965 which they called manpo-kei (ten-thousand steps meter).
The recommendation of 10,000 steps per day is a remnant of the advertising campaign regarding this Japanese step counter.
What are realistic goals for fitness for everybody?
Dr. Labos said that most people will take between 5000 and 7000 steps per day, even when they are mostly sedentary. If you can convince them to go for a 30-minute walk in addition, they will be close to reaching 10,000 steps per day.
On the other hand, an article in the medical journal JAMA Net Open in 2021 reviewed 2110 subjects and followed them for 10.8 years. Those participants who took at least 7,000 steps per day had 50-70% lower mortality risk when compared to those who took less than 7,000 steps per day. Higher step rates than 7,000 steps per day did not reduce mortality further. The population of this cohort consisted of black and white men and women.
Dr. Labos pointed out that those who only walked between 7,000 and 10,000 per day did just as well as those who walked more than 10,000 steps.
Other evidence that more steps per day are healthy
The following studies showed that using various parameters researchers could measure that more steps per day improved their health.
- In a Canadian study a group of diabetic patients were randomized to an exercise group in comparison to the usual care group. The exercise group increased their daily step count from 5,000 steps to 6,200 steps daily. This resulted in significant better control of their diabetes and their insulin sensitivity.
- A 24-week increased walking program reduced blood pressure by 11 points in a group of postmenopausal women. Their daily steps did not exceed 9,000 steps per day.
- A Japanese study involving postmenopausal women found that regular exercise involving 8,500 steps instead of the 6,800 steps as a baseline resulted in significant improvements of blood lipids.
- In the NHANES study from the US mortality in a group of people walking 8,000 steps per day or more was 51% lower in comparison to a group of less than 4,000 steps per day.
Although it is laudable to achieve a step count of 10,000 steps per day or more, few people do achieve that goal. I reviewed the evidence of where the real benefits occur with regard to mortality, control of diabetes, reduction of blood pressure and improvement of blood lipids. The inflection point is at 7,000 steps per day or more. Above this point your health is improving in all those parameters. Below 7,000 steps per day you are taking a risk. But when it comes to physical activity, any physical activity is better than doing nothing. It is a great way to improve your health!