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New Research: Health Benefits Start at 4,400 Steps a Day, Not 10,000

March 17, 2021

Whether we amble, strut, prance or run, take one long jaunt or a few shorter ones, the magic number of steps we need every day, according to federal guidelines, has been 10,000.

New research from Harvard University, however, proposes people, particularly women, can achieve the same health benefits from just 4,400 steps each day. The activity is enough to “significantly” lower the risk of death in women, according to the researchers, who noted that the resulting physical and mental health benefits of walking seem to level off around 7,500 steps per day anyway.

“This illustrates the importance of being active,” said Dr. Stephanie Saucier, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Wellness Program at Hartford HealthCare’s Heart & Vascular Institute.

The study, Dr. Saucier said, examines the impact of walking 4,400 steps per day vs. just 2,700 in older women with an average age of 72. The more steps the women walked, the lower their risk of dying became, until the benefit tapered off at around 7,500 steps per day. (A mile is about 2,000 steps.)

“I think this can be extrapolated to the older female population who may not be as active as their younger counterparts. It also allows people to have a step goal that may be more attainable and less intimidating,” she said of the research.

Walking to reach those daily steps or being more active in general has tremendous benefits for the heart, she said. Activity reduces the incidence of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, all of which affect your chances of developing heart disease. Aerobic exercise on average can reduce your systolic blood pressure by 12 points, Dr. Saucier said.

“I recommend all of my patients who are physically able exercise regularly – about 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week with some strength training included. The most benefit for people is when they go from being sedentary to being active,” she said, noting that the 150-minute recommendation applies to both men and women.

An additional study out of the University of Texas also revealed that walking fewer than 5,000 steps a day leaves the body less able to metabolize fat the next day. Fat buildup can increase the chance for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The good news, Dr. Saucier noted, is that adding or increasing activity to your life can be done in moderation.

“Being active does not mean you have to become a marathon runner overnight,” she said. “Start small. Try taking the stairs when you can, take walks during your work breaks, choose something active instead of going out for food with friends.”