Hey everyone, my name is Dr. Jeff Peng, and I am here to talk to you about daily walking and how many steps you need in one day to maximize its health benefits. Physical activity is critical to living a healthy life. It improves our heart and lung function, lowers our cholesterol and blood sugar, increases metabolism, and helps us lose weight. It also improves our sleep and mental health and helps us learn and concentrate. Daily step counts are an easy and indirect measure of physical activity.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. But what does that even mean? Can we try to simplify this? How many steps per day does that equal? Let’s look at the evidence.
Video: How many STEPS should I walk per day to stay HEALTHY?
I’m going to say this up front, and this doesn’t surprise anyone, but the more steps you take in a day, the longer you’re going to live. But what is the minimum number of steps to get that mortality benefit? Take a look at this study. They looked at almost 17,000 women and analyzed whether their step count was associated with all-cause mortality. They found that women who achieved 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates compared to those who got 2,700 steps per day. Every additional 1,000 steps lowered mortality until 7,500 steps per day. After that, any further mortality benefit leveled off.
Here’s another study. Researchers concluded there is a direct relationship between steps and mortality. Those who walked less than 4,000 steps per day had the highest mortality. This study also found that every additional 1,000 steps lowered mortality, but they found the effects lasted up to 12,000 steps per day. After that, the benefits started to flatten out.
Well, what about how fast we walk? Does that matter? Both of these studies used accelerometers to see if walking faster provided any additional benefit, and what they found was that there is no association between walking intensity or how fast you walk and mortality. They both concluded if you get the steps in, you will get that mortality benefit.
So, if walking helps us live longer, then it also makes sense that daily walking can provide benefits to our cardiovascular system. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from our heart to the rest of our body. Having stiff arteries is a predictor for cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes. This study looked into whether the amount of steps per day correlated with arterial stiffness. Researchers found that there was a significant difference between artery stiffness and those who had less than 5,000 steps per day compared with those who had more than 7,500 steps per day. They concluded the more steps you get in a day, the less stiff your arteries, and the less stiff your arteries, the less risk you have of cardiovascular disease.
What about cognition? How does daily walking affect our memory and our executive function? These researchers assessed the relationship between step count and cognitive performance as measured by two validated neuropsychological battery tests. They found positive correlations between more step counts and better attention, executive function, language, and memory. Unfortunately, this study did not publish the number of steps per day that their participants took, but what they did do was report a range of steps, and they reported their participants walked anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 steps per day. What they concluded was more steps in a day were associated with improved cognitive function.
What about our immune function? How does daily walking affect that? Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can be caused by both bacteria and viruses. It is the most common cause of hospital admissions in adults in the United States. This is, of course, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and now it’s arguably even more important. This study out of Japan examined whether walking one hour a day improved pneumonia-related outcomes in adults over 65 years old. They found that walking one hour a day, which for most people comes out to around 7,000 steps, significantly reduced the chance of dying from pneumonia among adults older than 65.
And what about our mental health? How does daily walking affect that? After all, mental health is physical health. You can’t have one without the other. These researchers found that participants who joined a 100-day, 10,000-step program had improved signs of depression, anxiety, and stress. Now, it’s important to point out that not all participants in this study reached their goal of 10,000 steps per day. In their analysis, researchers broke down the two groups to those with less than 10,000 steps and those with more than 10,000 steps per day. What they found was that both groups, regardless if they hit 10,000 steps or not, had significant improvements in their mental health. With that said, the people that did hit 10,000 steps per day had better improvements in stress and anxiety. They also rated their well-being as generally better.
So, the question becomes, should you get a device that can help you track your steps? And the answer is yes. Now, fortunately, you already have one. It’s your smartphone. Your smartphone can help you track daily steps.
This systematic review examined whether using a pedometer or a step tracker increased physical activity compared to non-users. They found that subjects randomized to the pedometer group increased their steps by about 2,500 steps per day compared to non-users. The pedometer group also had significant decreases in their weight and their blood pressure when compared to non-users.
So now, let’s summarize all of these studies. What should our daily step goal be? Number one, we should probably get a step tracker, and you can use your smartphone for this or any other type of wearable device. And you should aim for at least 7,500 steps per day. This will maximize benefits for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular risk, improving blood pressure, improving weight, improving mental health, and improving cognitive ability.
In conclusion, daily walking is an easy and effective way to improve your health. The evidence shows that the more steps you take in a day, the longer you’re going to live. Walking also provides benefits to our cardiovascular system, cognitive function, immune system, and mental health. And with the use of a step tracker, it’s easier than ever to make sure you’re getting enough steps in each day. So, get out there and start walking!