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Experts say the quantity of your daily steps is more important than the quickness of them.
Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images
  • Researchers say walking 7,000 steps a day can lower your risk of death by 50 percent to 70 percent.
  • Their study matches up with the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
  • If you get bored with walking, you can switch off with other exercises such as swimming and bicycling.

Is 7,000 steps the new sweet spot for seeing health benefits?

Maybe so, experts say.

According to a new study, people who took about 7,000 steps per day had a 50 percent to 70 percent lower risk of dying from all causes after 11 years of follow-up when compared with people who took fewer steps each day.

It didn’t seem to matter how quickly they moved, either. The findings also held regardless of factors such as race, income level, smoking, weight, and diet.

Researchers analyzed data from 2,210 participants with an average age of 45 in the 20th year of the examination. More than half (57 percent) of participants were women and 42 percent were Black. There was a significantly greater proportion of women and Black participants in the lowest step group.

Participants in the low step group compared with the moderate and high step volume groups had:

  • higher BMI
  • lower self-rated health
  • higher prevalence of stage 2 hypertension and diabetes

It’s important to note that the stress of enduring racism, discrimination, and other racist systems may play a part in these types of data.

Experts say the study should provide a motivational boost for many people.

“Sometimes people may be discouraged by high exercise goals — 10,000 steps could seem unattainable, in which case people may say, ‘Well it’s not even worth trying,’” said Dr. Michael Tiso, an internal medicine and sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“Having some evidence that some exercise is better than no exercise may encourage more people to initiate activity,” he told Healthline.

Tiso says the main point is to remember that exercise, and physical activity in general, is good for you.

“It’s also good to remember that one research study rarely changes overall guidelines,” Tiso said.

“Generally it’s best to follow public health guidelines when making health decisions, or to consult with your doctor for more specific questions based on your personal health conditions,” he said.

Following the guidelines means paying attention to pace and how often you’re getting your heart rate up.

The recommended physical activity guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) include:

  • Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking).
  • Another alternative is to get 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running or uphill hiking, rowing).
  • Another alternative (ideally) is a combination of both, spread out over the week.
  • Add moderate-intensity to high-intensity, muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
  • Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
  • Increase your amount and intensity gradually over time.

“Raising your heart rate is important to improve cardiovascular fitness but can be done with a variety of activities,” Tiso said.

“And don’t be discouraged — if you can’t walk 30 minutes or 7,000 steps a day, start with a 5- to 10-minute walk,” he said. “If you can’t do that, walk from the far spot in the parking lot.”

“Any activity is a start, and before you know it, it becomes part of your daily routine,” Tiso said.

The study didn’t look at increasing health benefits after 7,000 steps per day.

However, the AHA says you can gain even more overall health benefits by being active in any activity or combination of activities for at least 300 minutes per week.

This roughly translates to about 5 hours over 7 days. This is the ideal goal and may take some time to work up to.

Here are some examples of moderate-intensity activities to start with. Try to pick one or more you enjoy and schedule it into your day:

  • brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
  • water aerobics
  • dancing (ballroom or social)
  • gardening
  • tennis (doubles)
  • biking slower than 10 miles per hour

When you’re ready for more intensity, you can choose from activities such as:

  • hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
  • running
  • swimming laps
  • aerobic dancing
  • heavy yard work like continuous digging or hoeing
  • tennis (singles)
  • cycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • jumping rope

If you’re not one for numbers and step counting, you can simply follow the AHA’s key piece of expert advice, which is to move more, with more intensity, and sit less.