Your risk of dying (of any cause) decreases by 51% if you take this many steps per day

Prolonged inactivity shares a robust association with a slew of cancers and metabolic disorders. When we routinely engage in moderate exercise we improve our blood’s ability to circulate throughout our body, where it neutralizes toxins, disposes of cellular debris and administers nutrients and oxygen to important systems. 

You don’t need to undertake rigorous physical activity to optimize blood flow, in fact a new study published in the JAMA Network posits that taking as little as 8,000 steps a day can reduce your risk of dying of any cause by as much as 51%.

“While we knew physical activity is good for you, we didn’t know how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference,” says Pedro Saint-Maurice, Ph.D., of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, first author of the study, in a release. “We wanted to investigate this question to provide new insights that could help people better understand the health implications of the step counts they get from fitness trackers and phone apps.”

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from The National Cancer Institute, The National Institute on Aging, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In order to survey the extent to which walking contributes to longevity, the researchers recruited a pool of participants above the age of 40 in addition to individuals who were diagnosed with serious medical conditions before the beginning of the study period. 

Each of the 4,480 participants were fitted with accelerometers for seven days a week for three years consecutively. After all relevant data had been documented, including diet, smoking status; body mass index; mobility limitations; and diagnoses of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer, the researchers conducted a follow up study about  ten years later. 

In the time, 1165 deaths occurred. Four-hundred and six participants died as a result of cardiovascular disease and 283 succumbed to various forms of cancer.

On balance, 4,000 steps per day or less were linked to the worst outcomes. Participants who walked 8,000 steps per day or more decreased their risk of dying of any cause by 51% compared to those who walked roughly 4,000 steps per day.

Although intensity yielded no ostensible boost to mortality rates, the number of steps most certainly did. Acceleration was also calculated, but speed didn’t seem to have any notable impact on outcomes either.

Participants who walked 12,000 steps per day enjoyed a 65% lower mortality risk compared to those who only walked 4,000 steps per day, irrespective of how fast or rigorously they did so. These findings held true when adjusted for factors like race, gender, age and education. 

The researchers recommend adults of all ages try to shoot for at least 150 minutes of walking a day, which is a general translation of steps that exceed 4,000. 

“At NIA, we’ve long studied how exercise is important for older adults, and it’s good to see further evidence from a large study with a broad sample that the main thing is to get moving for better overall health as we age,” explained Eric Shiroma, Ph.D., the study’s co-author and NIA Intramural Research Program scientist.