Want to stay healthy as long as possible? You should start walking today. This low-intensity exercise is one of the best ways to get in shape without putting too much effort in. How many steps should you walk a day, though, to stay fit? New research suggests the number is below the 10,000 steps all fitness wearable companies seem to promote.
The study called "Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (opens in new tab)", published in September 2021, studied 2,110 adults for a period of just under 11 years and found that "participants who took at least 7000 steps/day, compared with those taking fewer than 7000 steps/day, had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality".
This is exciting news, especially considering the significant difference between mortality rates above and below the 7,000-step threshold. How far you can go by walking 7,000 steps depends on your stride length and your pace, but a person with an average build should cover around 3 miles (~ 5 km).
Better still, the study suggested, "there was no association of step intensity with mortality regardless of adjustment for step volume." This means it doesn't matter how fast you walk; the results are the same.
And although brisk walking has been shown to be an excellent (and most undoubtedly doable) way to lose weight, yet from a purely life-extension point of view, any type of walking will do, whether it's slow- or fast-paced strolling you prefer.
Joining a walking group can help you stick to your new life-changing habit of walking every day. A meta-study in 2015 found (opens in new tab) that "Walking groups are effective and safe with good adherence and wide-ranging health benefits. They could be a promising intervention as an adjunct to other healthcare or as a proactive health-promoting activity."
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What's the best way to track steps
Most people will use a fitness tracker or a Fitbit to track steps and that's a perfectly fine way to count steps. Cheaper fitness wearables can under or over-estimate steps so we wouldn't recommend using those.
Wearables such as the Garmin Venu Sq or the Fitbit Versa 3 do a great job in tracking your pace and steps as well as your heart rate so they can give you a reasonably good estimation of how many calories you burn throughout the day. Although the research suggested no correlation between pace and longevity, we would still recommend a faster stroll if your goal is to lose belly fat.
The next step up from fitness trackers would be to get a running watch. These often have built-in accelerometers so can track movement with high precision. And although some running watch models are considerably pricier than fitness trackers – the Garmin Enduro comes to mind – you can actually get entry-level running watches for cheap.
The Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Coros Pace 2 are both under $200£200 and provide infinitely more accurate data than most fitness trackers. These fitness wearables can also help you run faster and more efficiently, should you want to.