Taking an extra 4,000 steps a day might reduce our risk of dying prematurely, even if those steps are not swift, according to a large-scale new study of moving and mortality. At a time when so many of us are confined to home and worried about whether we are being active enough, the study is especially inspiring in that the added steps do not have to come from running or other vigorous exercise. It finds that for every additional 4,000 steps someone takes in a day, even if it’s just ambling around the block or across the room, his or her risk of dying early from heart disease, cancer or any other cause drops by 50 percent or more.
Right now, shelter-at-home restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic cover more than three out of every four Americans and millions more worldwide. In this situation, questions about just how much and how best to exercise or move about for our health and well-being are pressing.
Typically, the built-in apps on our phones and activity monitors or watches prompt us to accumulate at least 10,000 steps a day. But there are no reliable studies supporting the 10,000-step target, and some recent evidence suggests that the number sprang from a 1960s-era Japanese publicity campaign promoting pedometers with a name that translates as “10,000 steps.”
More recently, studies aiming to pin down the links between step counts and longevity have tended to be small, based on people’s memories of their activities or focused on specific groups of people, such as older women, Caucasians, or those with diabetes and other health problems. Because of these limitations, the issue of how many steps are desirable and sufficient for most people remains open, whatever your phone may tell you.
So, for the new study, which was published in March in JAMA, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to look at health and activity data from a large cross-section of Americans.