Walking Just 4,000 Steps a Day Can Help You Live Longer

Two people are seen walking outside.
New research suggests you may not have to walk 10,000 steps daily to receive health benefits — 2,500 steps per day may be enough. Igor Alecsander/Getty Images
  • Taking more steps per day can help lower your risk of heart disease and death, a new study found.
  • This study establishes that there’s a clear link between how much someone walks and their risk of dying.
  • Additionally, the study found that even walking short amounts can combat heart disease and early mortality. 

More research has found that walking effectively lowers your risk of heart disease and death.

The report, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology on August 9, found that walking 3,967 steps each day, slightly less than two miles, can lower your risk of dying from any cause. And walking 2,337 steps a day, slightly more than one mile, can reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

It’s long been known that walking can boost heart health and prolong longevity, however, prior research suggested you needed to walk at least 5,000 steps a day to reap the health benefits. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone should aim to walk 10,000 steps a day — but many people don’t come close to walking that many steps.

This study further establishes that there’s a clear link between how much someone walks and their risk of dying. However, even walking short amounts can combat heart disease and early mortality. 

“What is different is that previous studies have suggested you need at least 4,000 steps per day and ideally 6,000 to 8,000 for significant benefit.” Dr. Michael Fredericson, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford Health Care who was not involved in the study, told Healthline.  

“However, this study suggests we do not need as many steps to have health benefits, and they can manifest starting with even 2,500 to 4,000 steps a day,” Fredericson added.

You might not need 10,000 daily steps to improve your health 

The analysis evaluated the health data of 226,889 people collected from 17 different studies. 

The patient’s health outcomes were assessed over a median of 7.1 years.

The research team found that adding 1,000-step increments were linked to a 15% lower risk of death from any cause and 500-step increments were associated with a 7% lower risk of death from a cardiovascular event. 

Walking as few as 2,500 steps a day can improve your health and walking just 4,000 steps a day can significantly lower one’s risk of death, according to the findings.

The report is the biggest meta-analysis published on the health effects of regular walking and physical activity. 

The study is also the first to evaluate the health benefits up to a daily step count of 20,000. Past reports have looked at benefits associated with, at most, 15,000 daily steps. 

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, says that, based on this study, it’s worth walking as much as possible.

While health benefits were observed when people walked as few as 2,500 steps a day, the benefits continued to increase with more walking, up to 20,000 steps. 

“There does not seem to be such a thing as ‘too much’ walking,” Chen, who was not involved in the study, said.

“Perhaps the most important message is that even a small number of steps a day can improve mortality. This is a strong message that can motivate many of our patients to start exercising,” Chen added.

Sedentary behavior leads to chronic disease, poor health 

Research consistently shows that sedentary behavior, which is defined as taking fewer than 5,000 steps a day, can dramatically increase a person’s risk of all-cause mortality and other chronic conditions such as:

Estimates suggest that around 27.5% of people worldwide, particularly women and people in high-income countries, don’t get enough physical activity.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), low physical activity is the fourth leading risk factor for death worldwide. 

As the new meta-analysis shows, even a slight increase in physical activity can have significant health benefits.

The simplest way to counteract the effects of sitting too much is by walking, as the new research suggests. 

Physical activity of any kind improves heart function, blood flow, lipid profiles, and vascular compliance, which boosts cardiovascular health, said Dr. Theodore Strange, an internal medicine and geriatric medicine physician and the chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital.

“There have been studies that have shown that endorphin release, other hormonal changes like insulin metabolism, epinephrine release all have been associated with improved lifespan,” Strange said. 

According to Chen, physical activity also helps the body’s tissues become more efficient at extracting oxygen and nutrients from the blood, which decrease the demands on the heart.

Strange recommends parking farther away in parking lots, scheduling walking meetings or calls, and making a point to take steps whenever you are able. 

Fredericson says you don’t need to get all your steps in at once. 

“Breaking your exercise into several daily walks is as effective as one continuous walk,” he said. 

Over time, you can try to gradually increase the number of steps you walk each day. 

“I always tell my patients that they have to ‘start somewhere,’ even if it is just taking five to 10-minute walks at a time, in order to develop it as a daily habit,” says Chen. 

The bottom line

A new study suggests walking as little as 2,500 daily steps can significantly improve heart health and 4,000 daily steps can extend one’s lifespan.

While prior research has shown a link between walking and a lower risk of heart disease and early mortality, this is the first report to show that even a small amount of daily steps can have significant health benefits.

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