You know the feeling: You glance down at your Fitbit before bed and the number is far less than the 10,000 steps you were shooting for. But instead of grappling with guilt that you didn’t hit the “magic number,” if you got at least halfway there, you can rest easy. A new study found that just 4,400 steps reduced the risk of premature mortality in women by 41%. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the lead author of the study, explains why.
Were you surprised by the results of your study?
Lee: Yes and no. Previous studies have shown that when it comes to physical activity, “some is good, more is better,” but there’s little data on steps and health, particularly long-term health outcomes. I knew this was a critical gap in knowledge, since so many people monitor their step counts. But 4,400 steps per day is a very modest number of steps.
Where did the more well-known goal of 10,000 steps per day come from?
Lee: It likely originated as a marketing tool. In 1965, the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company in Japan sold a pedometer called “Manpo-kei,” [which roughly translates to] “ten thousand steps meter” in Japanese. But, for many older people especially, 10,000 steps per day can be a very daunting goal. That’s why we wanted to investigate whether this number was necessary to lower mortality rates.
Is 10,000 still a good goal? Or should women now shoot for 4,400 steps a day?
Lee: If you can get to 10,000 steps per day, that’s fantastic, and I certainly would not dissuade you from that goal. For those who are inactive, though, that might not be achievable. Most people average 2,500 steps per day just doing normal activities, like going to the bathroom, walking around the office and getting the mail, so adding 2,000 steps per day more to your usual routine is very doable.
What do you hope women will take away from your study?
Lee: Just move more. Even a modest number of steps is associated with lower mortality. You don’t need to go walk for miles or hit the gym. The extra 2,000 steps (which is about one mile) can be accumulated throughout the day. Once you get into the habit of not sitting around so much, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to get the extra steps.