It is widely accepted that a person should walk 10,000 steps a day to stay fit and healthy, but new research suggests older women do not need to reach this magic number. Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that as few as 4,400 can be beneficial.
The researchers discovered that women who walked 4,400 steps a day had a significantly lower risk of death than those stepping out 2,700 times. While they also noticed mortality rates improved with more steps, this was only up to a point.
Once individuals reached an average 7,500 steps, they could not lower their risk of death by walking further. This makes the 10,000-step target that many aspire to an arbitrary figure for older women.
What it also underlines is that people shouldn’t be put off by seemingly unachievable numbers, as a little bit extra activity every day can be enough to make a difference. So, if you are worried about an elderly relative and their lack of exercise, some gentle encouragement could go a long way.
I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham, said: "Taking 10,000 steps a day can sound daunting. But we find that even a modest increase in steps taken is tied to significantly lower mortality in older women.
"Our study adds to a growing understanding of the importance of physical activity for health, clarifies the number of steps related to lower mortality and amplifies the message: Step more -- even a little more is helpful."
It’s unknown where the idea for 10,000 steps being set as a target came from, but some think it originated in Japan back in 1965. That’s when the Manpo-kei pedometer hit the market and its name translates as the 10,000 steps meter.
Now that activity trackers have become commonly owned items, the 10,000-step target has been adopted by many. Most of these devices are pre-programmed with the figure as a goal and people have failed to question it in the past.
Some 16,741 women wore a research grade wearable for the study and had their activity and health analysed. The average age of the participants was 72 and the project lasted for four years. During that time, 504 of these women died and those in the bottom quarter of steps walked had the highest risk of dying.
Another finding of the study was that the speed at which a person walks does not have an impact on their risk of death. Even slow walking could be beneficial, as the research suggests it’s quantity over quality.
Dr Lee summarised: "Of course, no single study stands alone. But our work continues to make the case for the importance of physical activity. Clearly, even a modest number of steps was related to lower mortality rate among these older women. We hope these findings provide encouragement for individuals for whom 10,000 steps a day may seem unattainable."