By , Kirsten Fleming
Published June 05, 2019
Since the dawn of our Fitbit, step-tracking culture, we’ve been programmed to strive for 10,000 steps a day — and to feel guilty if we haven’t hit that daily benchmark.
But a new study out of Harvard Medical School says that less may be more when it comes to walking.
The study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine, says that notching only half of that 10,000 number is linked to a decreased risk for early deaths in older women.
And the benefits might even flatten out after about 7,500 steps, making those extra 2,500 paces futile.
“You don’t need to get a lot of steps to see benefits in mortality rates,” co-author I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist in the division of preventive medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tells The Post. “People are hung up on the 10,000 number. They diligently try to get that number because it’s conventional wisdom, but it’s fun to question conventional wisdom.”
The study followed 16,741 women from ages 62 to 101 for four years. The women wore trackers to measure their step count and speed during their daily activities for at least seven consecutive days. (They didn’t wear the trackers while sleeping or doing water-based activities.) Throughout the study, they reported to researchers on their lifestyle, diet and medical histories. Of the group, 504 women died during the four-year time period.
Researchers found that women who averaged about 4,400 steps a day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who took only about half as many daily steps. The most active group — those who reached 7,500 or beyond — had a decreased mortality rate, but no added benefit came with hitting the 10,000 mark.
“For the people who do nothing at all, the goal is modest,” Lee says. “Even if you take 2,000 more steps, you will live longer if you step more. People who want to do more are better off, but the benefit seems to level off at 7,500.”
Perhaps the most shocking tidbit that spurred her research was the origin of the 10,000-steps-a-day prescription.
That bit of wisdom didn’t come from an exercise science lab, Lee learned. Rather, that figure was plucked from a Japanese marketing campaign from the 1960s hawking an early incarnation of the pedometer.
The device, invented before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to promote movement, was called a “manpo-kei.” In Japanese, “man” means 10,000, “po” means steps and “kei” means meter. Together, it was the 10,000-steps meter. The campaign solidified what we now consider fitness gospel.
Since the study looked only at mortality and not quality of life, there’s still more research to be done. Even so, Lee isn’t discouraging anyone from putting extra mileage on their sneakers.
“I think it’s encouraging that you can get significant health benefits with less steps,” says Lee. “But if you do 10,000 steps, then more power to you.”