After age 60, 10,000 steps might no longer be the right fitness goal

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Perhaps you’ve heard that you should take 10,000 steps every day for your health. But that’s not actually a hard-and-fast rule. Research is finding that you might be able to take as few steps as you age and still get serious benefits.

If you’re over age 60, for example, you might be able to cut a 10,000-step goal by almost half and stay healthy. “There is no single magic number,” says Amanda Paluch, a physical activity researcher and assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In one large analysis of the research on this question, published in 2022 in the journal Lancet Public Health, scientists found that the risk of premature death decreases as your daily step count increases. The people who walked about 5,800 steps a day, for example, had a 40 percent lower risk of premature death compared to those who took the fewest steps — about 3,600 a day.

Getting in your steps — even well below 10,000 — may have other benefits, too. In another 2022 study, taking just under 4,000 daily steps was linked to a lower risk of dementia. And according to a 70-year-old study published in the journal BMC Public Health, those who tallied 4,500 daily steps or more had a 59 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who were less active. That decline in risk leveled off at 8,000 steps.

The risk of developing heart disease and cancer seems to follow a similar pattern, with uncertain benefits beyond about 10,000 steps. High step counts may also be associated with a lower risk for sleep apnea, reflux, depression and obesity, according to a 2022 study in Nature Medicine.

“It is likely that with each decade, you may require fewer steps per day to create a physiological response that could lead to health benefits,” Paluch says.

Case in point: In the Lancet study, younger adults didn’t get substantial benefits related to mortality beyond 8,000 to 10,000 steps. But for those over age 60, the point of diminishing returns comes at 6,000 to 8,000 steps. This may be because a certain amount of exercise, such as walking a half-mile, may be more strenuous for an average 70-year-old compared to an average 40-year-old.

There’s no minimum number of steps you need to boost your health. “It is not an all-or-nothing situation,” Paluch says. “Each increase of 1,000 to 2,000 steps can lead to health benefits, especially for those starting at lower activity levels.”

To figure out your step goal, start by quantifying how many steps you get in a typical week, says David R. Bassett, a physical activity researcher and emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. (Use a simple pedometer or your phone.) Then increase your daily average by 500 to 1,000. Once you can hit that new number regularly for a week, add another 500 to 1,000 steps.

Continue increasing your daily steps until you’re in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 steps if you’re 60 or older, or 8,000 to 10,000 if you’re younger.

If you’re already at the top of your range, keep it up. If you feel like you can do more, go for it. But don’t worry if you can’t hit a certain target.

“Do what you feel that you are capable of doing,” Bassett says. As long as you’re moving, you’re reaping some benefits.

Copyright 2022, Consumer Reports Inc.

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