Forget 10 000 steps a day - here's what you should focus on instead, according to a new study

  • Achieving 10 000 steps a day is popularly touted as one of the best ways to maintain good health.
  • But a new study suggests that a faster walking speed is even better for significant health benefits.
  • The research team drew on data from nearly 80 000 UK adults.

The 10 000 steps a day mantra has long been touted as the sweet spot for good health and longevity, but experts have contested this for years.

In fact, this widely-promoted fitness goal appears to have originated from a marketing campaign dating as far back as 1965, News24 previously explained.

Studies have found that doing less than 10 000 steps is still good for your health and that taking at least 7 000 steps a day can also have important health benefits.

READ MORE | How many steps per day are needed for longevity? Fewer than 10 000, says large study

Now, researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia and the University of Southern Denmark say that there's something more important than clocking in your daily thousands of steps: focus on a faster stepping pace, such as power walking, for optimal benefits.

"The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits, people could... also aim to walk faster," study co-author Dr Matthew Ahmadi says in a university news release.

READ MORE | Longing for the body you used to have? 'Body grief' is a real thing - an expert explains how to deal

Benefits from as low as 3 800 steps a day

The study analysed step count data from 78 500 adults aged 40 to 79. The data was extracted from the UK Biobank.

While achieving 10 000 steps a day was linked to a lowered risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death, a faster stepping pace showed more significant benefits than the number of steps achieved.

"For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3 800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25%,” says Ahmadi.

Other important findings of the study included: 

  • Every 2 000 steps lower a person’s risk of early death by 8 to 11%.
  • Close to 10 000 steps was the optimal dose linked to a lower risk of dementia by 50%.
  • However, this risk can be reduced by 25% at as low as 3 800 steps a day.
  • A faster pace showed beneficial links for dementia, heart disease, cancer and death over and above total daily steps.

READ MORE | Why 7 000 steps a day is the new 10 000 steps a day

"Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps," says senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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