We may not need 10,000 daily steps for long life, studies suggest

Step goals can guide those looking to improve their physical activity, an expert said

Adults likely need at least 7,000 steps daily or should play sports for more than 2.5 hours every week to maximize longevity, according to two large-scale studies.

The first study, published in JAMA Network Open last month, followed over 2,000 middle-aged men and women for over 10 years. When the participants first joined the study, they wore a monitor that tracked their steps consecutively over one week. Researchers found that those who took more than 7,000 steps daily cut their mortality risk by 50-70% compared to those who took fewer steps.

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Dr. Linda Pescatello, board of trustees distinguished professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and a member of the American College of Sport Medicine, told Fox News: "The … study is an important advancement in a growing body of literature since the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee Scientific Report that 7,000 daily steps or about 30 to 45 min. of exercise on most days appears to be the benchmark to achieve to experience numerous health benefits including reduced mortality."

The second study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in August, analyzed data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which was started in 1976 to follow the cardiovascular health of thousands of Danish patients, expanding years later to research many other medical issues, including exercise and sports.

The researchers tracked how many hours each week thousands of Danes exercised and played in a variety of sports, including cycling, soccer, swimming, weightlifting, handball, badminton and tennis.

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Although more than half died since the study began 25 years ago, researchers found those who reported some form of exercise between 2.6-4.5 hours weekly dropped their mortality risk by 40% compared to those who were not as active.

They extrapolated 2.6 hours weekly to approximately 7,000 and 8,000 daily steps, while 4.5 hours weekly amounted to some 10,000 steps on most days.

The group completing more than 10 hours of exercise every week actually lost one-third of the mortality benefit, so they noted exercise benefits were not linear, but plateaued. The main limitations of both studies are associational in nature, which means physical exercise is linked to living longer, but doesn’t mean exercise causes a longer life span.

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"A step goal can be helpful for many people looking to improve their physical activity behaviors," Orangetheory Fitness research scientist Brittany Masteller told Fox News. "The intensity of steps is crucial in determining health outcomes related to physical activity. Any movement is great; however, the Physical Activity Guidelines are established from moderate to vigorous intensity. For most people achieving 7,000-10,000 steps per day, it is more likely they’re getting at least some dose of moderate or higher intensity steps." 

Masteller shared the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for Americans, which recommend adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week – or a combination of the two and at least two days of strength training on all major muscle groups.