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How Much Should You Walk To Live Longer?

Research has shown that even mild exercise like walking can add years to your life. But just how many steps do you have to take to live longer? A new study seems to answer that question.

The University of Massachusetts conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies involving nearly 50,000 people from four continents that offers new insights into identifying the amount of daily walking steps that will optimally improve adults’ health and longevity.

The analysis represents an effort to develop an evidence-based public health message about the benefits of physical activity. The oft-repeated “10,000-steps-a-day” mantra grew out of a decades-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer, with no science to back up the impact on health.

Led by University of Massachusetts Amherst physical activity epidemiologist Amanda Paluch, an international group of scientists who formed the “Steps for Health Collaborative” found that taking more steps a day helps lower the risk of premature death.

More specifically, for adults 60 and older, the risk of premature death leveled off at about 6,000-8,000 steps per day, meaning that more steps than that provided no additional benefit for longevity. Adults younger than 60 saw the risk of premature death stabilize at about 8,000-10,000 steps per day. 

“So, what we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off,” Paluch says. “And the leveling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults.”

Paluch’s findings are reported in a paper published March 2 in Lancet Public Health.

The new research supports and expands findings from another study led by Paluch, published last September in JAMA Network Open, which found that walking at least 7,000 steps a day reduced middle-aged people’s risk of premature death.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, updated in 2018, recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Paluch is among the researchers seeking to help establish the evidence base to guide recommendations for simple, accessible physical activity, such as walking. 

“Steps are very simple to track, and there is a rapid growth of fitness tracking devices,” Paluch says. “It’s such a clear communication tool for public health messaging.”

Interestingly, the research found no definitive association with walking speed beyond the total number of steps per day, Paluch notes. Getting in your steps – regardless of the pace at which you walked them – was the link to a lower risk of death. Which means even if you are not capable of so-called “powerwalking” due to age or injury, it’s ok; just get out there and take those first “steps” to a longer, healthier life!

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