You don't need to walk 10,000 steps a day — walking faster is what counts to protect you from heart disease and cancer
- There's even more research that daily walking can help prevent early death and dementia.
- As few as 3,800 daily steps may stave off illness, with more benefits for every 2,000 extra steps you take.
Walking is a great way to improve your health and stave off cognitive decline and other age-related ailments, even if you only do a moderate amount each day, new research suggests.
While 10,000 steps a day is considered the ideal to improve health, as few as 3,800 steps per day has benefits, and walking at a faster pace is even better for you, according to a study published September 6 in JAMA Neurology.
Researchers from the University of Sydney looked at data from 78,430 mostly white UK adults aged 40 to 70, comparing step counts, average speed, and health outcomes over about seven years of follow-up.
They found that for every 2,000 steps participants took per day, on average, their risk of early death was 8-11 percent lower, up to 10,000 steps a day.
But walking just 3,800 steps a day had benefits, specifically for brain health, reducing the risk of dementia by 25 percent, according to data. People who walked about 9,800 steps per day had a 50 percent lower risk of dementia.
Walking pace and intensity also made a difference for health outcomes, with faster walkers showing greater benefits for cognitive health and prevention of illnesses like heart disease and cancer, according to data.
The optimal speed for a 30 minute walk was about 112 steps per minute, slightly faster than what previous research has identified as a healthy, brisk walking speed of 2.7 miles an hour, or 100 steps per minute.
Participants got more benefits in fewer steps if they were purposeful with their walking, and did it with the intention of exercising rather than simply moving from room to room during their day. Researchers found the ideal amount of purposeful walking was around 6,000 steps a day.
The findings suggest that both walking distance and speed could be helpful tools for improving health and reducing risk of illness, according to the researchers.
"The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits, people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster," Dr Matthew Ahmadi, co-lead author of the study and research fellow at the University of Sydney, said in a press release.
Previous research supports the idea that vigorous walking is good for you, even if you get less than 10,000 steps
Earlier studies have also found a fast walking pace and shorter step count may have benefits.
A 2022 study found a brisk walking pace, more than three miles an hour, was most effective for slowing signs of biological aging, potentially leading to a longer, healthier life by as much as 16 years.
And one 2019 study found that walking seemed to reduce the risk of early death in as few as 4,400 steps per day.
The idea that walking 10,000 steps per day is optimal may be as much based in marketing as in science, Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard paleoanthropologist who has studied the evolution of exercise, previously told Insider.
The number was popularized by a Japanese company to help sell the first commercial pedometer, and 10,000 was chosen because it was both catchy and easy to remember.
Aiming for 10,000 steps can be overly ambitious, since it's a total of about five miles, but having a convenient goal may be helpful if it motivates you to be active.
"We all have deep fundamental instincts to avoid unnecessary activity, so we need those nudges to help people get started," he said.
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