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Extend Your Life: Cut Your Risk of Early Death by Half

Step up to an exercise challenge, it's easier than you think.

Key points

  • Long walks can help you live longer and improve your physical and mental health.
  • Experts have long recommended a daily walking goal of 10,000 steps, but new research says fewer steps can still be a benefit.
  • An activity tracker that counts your steps can help you meet your fitness goals.
Daniel Reche/Pixabay, used with permission
Improve your health step-by-step.
Source: Daniel Reche/Pixabay, used with permission

We all know that getting enough exercise can help you stay mentally and physically healthy and live longer as you age. Walking can be a very effective exercise if you do enough of it. Conventional wisdom tells us that taking at least 10,000 steps a day will do it. The good news: Researchers have discovered that as you get older and start to slow down a bit, you may need to take fewer steps than you think to support your goal of longevity.

In a recently published prospective cohort study, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, looked at the step volume and intensity of more than 2,000 middle-aged black and white men and women (ages 38 to 50, with a mean age of 45.2). They saw significant health benefits for those men and women who took between 7,000 and 10,000 steps a day compared with those who walked less distance. In fact, those who took at least 7,000 steps daily lowered their risk of premature death by 50 percent to 70 percent. The benefits of walking, the researchers say, start at between 5,000 and 6,000 daily steps and increase incrementally up to 10,000 steps. They found no relationship between longevity and intensity of walking, and no additional benefits for anyone taking more than 10,000 steps a day.

This research was part of the larger, long-term Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study at the National Institutes of Health. This ongoing study, which has been running for 30 years, was designed to look at the contribution of lifestyle and environmental factors on heart health over the course of the lifespan, and included diverse groups of participants from across the United States. Researchers in the step study followed participants for a mean period of 10.8 years, with final follow-ups in some cases at the 20-year point. No significant differences were found when researchers compared men with women or one race with another.

One mile is approximately 2,000 steps; to walk 10,000 steps, you would have to walk about 5 miles throughout the day. Every step counts, and it pays to count your steps to make sure you’re on track and help you reach your step goal each day. Participants in this study wore accelerometers on their hips to accurately document their steps and provide the evidence necessary for researchers to make valid recommendations.

Wearable activity trackers have become more and more popular over the years, as evidenced by reported sales of FitBits from approximately half a million in 2012 increasing to almost 30 million in 2019. If you have a smartphone, you probably know it’s been counting your steps all along, and research has shown that activity trackers in smartphones are pretty accurate.

References

Amanda E. Paluch, Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Janet E. Fulton, Cora E. Lewis, Pamela J. Schreiner, Barbara Sternfeld, Stephen Sidney, Juned Siddique, Kara M. Whitaker, Mercedes R. Carnethon. Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. JAMA Network Open, 2021; 4 (9): e2124516 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24516

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