It's a question people have wondered for decades, but in an era of smartphone apps and wearable tech devices, it might have increased relevance.
How many steps should you be taking every day?
A new peer-reviewed study published in JAMA Network Open suggests 7,000 steps a day could be a solid benchmark for middle-aged adults, a break from the often-regurgitated number of 10,000.
The study, which began tracking participants in 2005, revealed a 50% to 70% lower risk of premature, all-cause mortality for those who crossed that 7,000-steps-a-day threshold, compared with those who logged fewer than 7,000.
The study tracked 2,110 people ages 38 to 50 and followed them for an average of nearly 11 years.
While the 7,000-step milestone stood out in the study, experts say that simply improving on your current step count can make a difference.
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What should your step count goal be?
People have been tracking their steps for years, but there hasn't always been a clear daily goal for Americans.
The conventional goal of 10,000 steps was more of a "marketing tool" than anything else, said Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a researcher on physical activity. A Japanese company released a step-tracking device in the 1960s called the "10,000 steps meter," encouraging users to reach the milestone, and the number caught on.
A 2019 study written by Lee found that a higher number of steps is linked to lower mortality rates up until about 7,500 a day.
The latest step count study, published this month, further contradicted the once-heralded 10,000-step mark. It found that crossing the threshold was not associated with a further reduction in premature mortality risk.
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The study provides more insight into what middle-aged adults should be shooting for on a daily basis, but there isn't a singular number recommended by federal health officials just yet.
In fact, a clear national guidance on daily step counts is needed, said Dr. Nicole Spartano, a research assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.
There's a common misconception that exercise is limited to moderate-to-intense workout activities like running or biking, Spartano says. Establishing a national barometer of daily steps might help reshape how people view activity while also making the guidelines more accessible to those who can't participate in moderate or intense workouts.
After all, doing something as simple as an evening walk is more activity than doing nothing at all.
“It’s important that we can provide achievable goals for people who are doing very little activity," Spartano said.
An effective way to establish more achievable goals, she argues, is for the messaging to come from the top, namely the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” a set of health practices issued originally in 2008 and updated in 2018.
The guidelines tell adults to move more and sit less, reminding them that "some physical activity is better than none." But they fall short of establishing a tangible step count goal.
Forming a daily step count milestone for all Americans is the "ultimate goal," especially as more people track health progress using fitness trackers, Paluch said.
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Paluch and Spartano said future research on step counts will be helpful and necessary, especially to discover whether or how higher step counts are associated with other health outcomes besides premature mortality, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and mental health.
In the meantime, it can't hurt to get more steps in.
“If you’re at 4,000, try to get to 5,000. If you’re at 5,000, try to get to 6,000," Paluch says. "You can find little ways to fit more steps into your life.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How many steps should you walk per day? Study finds lower death risk