Even 4,000 steps a day can have huge health benefits

Exercise scientists long ago disproved the notion that you need to hit 10,000 steps every day to stay healthy and live long. Even a little movement is good, they argue, though more is better. Now, A A new study It underscores that people can get significant benefits from a relatively small number of daily steps.

Researchers analyzed 17 studies, which typically measured how many steps people took over a one-week period, and followed their health outcomes seven years later. They concluded that walking less than 4,000 feet per day reduced the risk of dying from any cause, including cardiovascular disease.

That translates to a 30- to 45-minute walk, or roughly two miles, though it varies from person to person, says Dr. Seth Shay Martin, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine and author of the study. But the more steps you take, the better: The risk of death decreased by 15 percent for every additional 1,000 steps participants took.

“That’s the best medicine we can recommend: going out for a walk,” said Dr. Randall Thomas, a preventive cardiology specialist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study.

The study couldn’t prove definitively whether these steps reduced the risk of developing disease and dying, or whether people who wanted to be healthy were getting more steps throughout the day anyway. Because the researchers pooled data across studies to determine the 4,000-step goal, it may not have the same benefit for every person, said McMaster University associate professor, “Move the Body, Heal the Mind,” who was not involved in the study.

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“I don’t want people to look at it as a magic number, you have to be above that perfect step count,” Dr. Martin said. “It’s even better because there’s more.”

That principle is already well established in exercise research, says Dr. said Ai-Min Lee, who was not involved in the study. But new research emphasizes that exercise is “all or nothing”: every little bit of exercise helps. Add the little bits of movement built into our day — from the bedroom to the bathroom to scrambling to get coffee — and make a difference, she said.

But people who don’t consider themselves active or struggle to exercise because of chronic conditions may underestimate the value of the movement they’re getting, Dr. Hayes said. Taking an extra loop around the block or going out for a 10-minute walk can make a big impact.

People with higher step counts in these studies were already exercising, whether they ran or played sports, Dr. Lee said; People who currently get few steps can benefit most from moving more.

To incorporate that extra exercise, people can start by assessing their baseline steps, using a fitness tracker or smartphone’s built-in step counter, to figure out how to add a walk to their day, Dr. Martin said. She suggests holding a phone meeting while walking instead of video calling, parking your car farther away, or taking your kids to the park and chasing them.

“People think, ‘Oh, well, it’s not going to get me to those 10,000 steps, and I’m not even close, so why bother?'” Dr. Hayes said. “It’s encouraging. But I think you can really get mental health and physical benefits out of short, brief movement intervals that are better than some of the chanting and chanting.

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