Walking for Better Health

Walking is one of the easiest ways to exercise. There’s no need to spend money on a gym membership, so there’s also no need for extra equipment or preparation. A large 2022 research study found that walking 10,000 steps a day is associated with reduced risks of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and all other causes of death. Walking faster provides additional benefits over and above the total number of steps. So, let’s take a walk for better health.

Key takeaways:
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    Walking 10,000 steps a day significantly decreases the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and all other causes of death, according to a recent study.
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    Even 3,800 steps may be associated with reduced risks of dementia by 25%.
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    Walking faster and further may be associated with reduced risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and premature death.
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    Previous studies found conflicting results. More research is needed to better assess the ideal number of steps or the benefits of power walking for decreasing the risk of illnesses and death.
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    Regular exercise provides numerous health benefits.

Do you need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

Walking 10,000 steps a day has become the gold standard, as many step-counting tools set this number as the goal. The original concept started in the mid-1960s with the invention of a Japanese device called Manpo-kei, which means “10,000 steps meter.” However, the name was purely created as a marketing tool and was not based on scientific studies.

What do new studies say?

A recent large study backs the claim about 10,000 steps. Researchers monitored over 78,000 adults between 40-79 over 7 years. Findings showed that every 2000 steps were associated with decreased risk of premature death by 8-11% — maxing out at 10,000 daily steps. However, walking nearly 10,000 steps a day decreased the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and all causes of death.

The study provides good news for those less active, too. For example, while walking 10,000 steps daily may help decrease the risk of dementia by 50%, as few as 3,800 steps a day can reduce the risk by 25%.

Walking at a fast pace or increased stepping intensity showed additional benefits, further decreasing the risk of all outcomes — dementia, heart disease, cancer, and premature death.

Past research

Another large study, published in 2021, evaluated the health benefits of walking 7000-10,000 steps a day over three decades. The study analyzed data from over 2100 participants aged between 38-50.

Scientists found that those who walked 7000 steps or more daily had about 50%-70% lower risk of premature death compared with those taking fewer. Furthermore, the researchers saw similar findings for men and women. Additionally, more than 10,000 steps a day did not further reduce mortality risk. Over the years, various studies found different results.

Power walking vs. taking 10,000 steps

While the 2022 study found a positive association between step intensity and decreased risk of illnesses and premature death, the 2021 study did not. Some older studies found that intense physical activity provides a greater reduction in mortality compared with moderate-intensity activity, and increasing the intensity can offer additional benefits.

Overall, walking fast or power walking seems to be a great option for those looking to get healthier and maintain their health.

Instead of considering power walking or taking 10,000 steps, you can choose a combination of 7000 steps or more and increase the walking speed.

In 2011, the American College of Sports Medicine recommended adults take at least 7000 steps a day. The average American adult takes about 3000-4000 steps a day or 1.5 to 2 miles. If a person chooses to walk more, they should first track the number of daily steps to get a baseline number, then add 1000 extra steps every two weeks.

Looking at the big picture

Researchers still debate the best form of exercise or the optimal number of daily steps to prevent premature death. Hopefully, future studies will provide more definitive answers. In the meantime, health experts know a few things with certainty.

Regular physical activity is one of the most important behaviors a person can adopt to boost and maintain good health. Regular exercise is linked with significant health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression, several types of cancer, and overall better quality of life.

Larger numbers, like 10,000 steps a day, may sound overwhelming for someone living a sedentary life. They may not believe that they could ever reach this goal.

Thus, it is best to focus on the big picture. Any exercise is better than no exercise, and nearly everyone can improve their health by walking more and staying more active.

Finding an enjoyable fitness routine could be more important than the type of workout, as consistency and a long-term commitment are keys to reaping the benefits of exercise.

General guidelines for adults and children

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the following general guidelines for adults and children:

For adults

Get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of intense/vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

Add resistance (strength) training at least two days per week.

Avoid spending too much time sitting, and try to move as much as possible.

See even more benefits if you are active for 300 minutes weekly.

For children

Children ages 3-5 should stay active and have plenty of opportunities to move throughout the day.

Children ages 6-17 should get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity — mostly aerobic — every day.

Include intense workouts at least three days per week and resistance (strength) training three times a week.

Gradually increase the time and intensity of the workouts.

How to add more steps to your daily routine

Set clear goals. Note your current fitness routine, know your target and make a plan to achieve that target.

Join a gym, keep a regular schedule, and incorporate the use of a treadmill.

Take your dog for a walk. If you don't have a dog, ask a friend or neighbor to walk their dogs.

Invite your family for a walk or hike — instead of watching a movie.

Park farther away from the grocery store or malls when you go shopping.

Instead of taking the elevator, choose the stairs.

Take short breaks during work to move around and stretch.

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