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Counting Steps for Our Health

The daily goal of 10,000 steps became popular, but is it evidence-based? How many steps a day are recommended? This article reviews a number of studies and the conclusion is surprising!

Physical activity has been proven to improve health for every person, at every age. It has a positive impact on physical and mental health and well being. Despite the wide variety of possible physical activities, walking is an important and recommended activity, as it is available, accessible, and simple. It suits all age groups and any environment. The recommended number of minutes of physical activity is often cited, though step counting has also become common thanks to wearables and the use of new technologies, such as mobile phones and fitness watches, which easily monitor the number of daily steps.

How many steps a day should we take?

In the past few years, the goal of 10,000 steps a day has been considered the optimal daily goal for an adult. Nevertheless, the question is whether it is all or nothing. Experts are divided on this issue.

A review of existing studies clearly demonstrates that a goal of 10,000 steps a day is not a scientific consensus. Studies in recent years (2019-2022) have shown that for the elderly population (60 years and older), even 6,000-8,000 steps a day contribute to health, while the younger population (60 years and less) should strive for to a daily goal of 8,000-10,000 steps in order to maintain optimal health and decrease the risk of morbidity and mortality. Among a less active population (women at the average age of 72 years), it was evident that even 4,400 steps a day contributed to health, in comparison to women who walked only 2,700 steps a day.

However, a 2022 meta-analysis has shown that adding approximately 1,000 daily steps is associated with reducing the morbidity and mortality risk by 12% among adult populations of different age groups.

These findings and the difference between them, underline the necessity and benefit of age-segmented guidelines when it comes to the recommended daily steps and the recommended number of minutes of physical activity, body strengthening and movement. Nevertheless, it is proven that walking less than 10,000 steps a day can be beneficial, though an increase in the number of steps is associated with reducing morbidity and mortality among the adult population. When determining our personal daily walking goal, it is necessary to take into account our current level of activity, fitness, lifestyle, age, as well as life events (pregnancy, childbirth, etc.).

Remember that the modern lifestyle provides too many opportunities for sedentary behavior. This leads to prolonged sitting, lack of movement and failure to initiate physical activity. We are all very busy and occasionally find it difficult to make time for walking. It is important to take into consideration that every step counts and it is possible to increase the number of daily steps, in different intervals throughout the day, consistently. The benefit of physical activity accumulates.

Here are some ideas that can help you increase your daily step count

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walk to get your shopping and run errands
  • Accompany the children to and from school
  • Walk the dog several times a day
  • Park in a remote location
  • Walk a part of the way to and from work
  • Get moving during your lunch break
  • Go on walks with family and friends

 For further reading

Physical activity recommendations on the Ministry of Health website (Hebrew)
World Health Organization guidelines on physical activity, 2020
American Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on physical activity, 2018