- The health benefits of walking have been well studied, and range from reducing risk of cardiovascular disease to improving cognition and mood.
- New research suggests that as little as just under 4,000 steps a day can reduce the risk of dying from all causes.
- Walking is a great entry into an active lifestyle since it is free and easy, but our fitness experts say to ease into a walking routine slowly and gradually.
Easy and free, walking is one of the best tools for working towards a healthier you. Our bodies are designed to move, and if you’re one of the 60% of U.S. adults who doesn’t get in the recommended amount of exercise, walking can be a great entry into a more active lifestyle.
There are many compelling reasons to lace up and get moving. Research has long linked walking and weight loss, as walking effectively increases energy or calorie expenditure over time. Studies have also suggested that walking routinely can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve a person’s cognition and even decrease symptoms of anxiety. But the common guidance of 10,000 steps a day can be unrealistic for many, and new research found that you may be able to reap benefits at a far smaller daily step count.
The meta-analysis, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, pulled data from seventeen long-term studies with over 226,000 participants across the world. The split was pretty even for male and female, and the average age of the participants was 64 years. The researchers looked at the daily number of step counts and their relationship to all-cause mortality (the risk of dying from all causes) and other factors.
Results showed that walking 3,867 steps daily was enough to begin reducing the risk of dying from any cause, and that just 2,337 steps per day could help reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. The benefits were similar for men and women as well, regardless of where they lived.
But most importantly, the study found that essentially the more you walk, the better – every extra 1,000 steps was associated with a 15% decreased risk of dying from any cause, and a mere extra 500 daily steps was associated with a 7% decrease in dying from heart disease.
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How do I start walking after being sedentary?
It’s never too late to start a walking program – the study found benefits at every age. But the health benefits were most pronounced for younger individuals under 60 years of age, so starting a walking program early can make a tremendous impact on your overall health. Our fitness experts recommend starting with about 15-minute walking sessions at a moderate pace for three to five days per week depending on your current fitness level. You can slowly increase the duration and frequency over time, eventually gearing up to 30-minute walking sessions five days a week. All you will really need to start is a good quality pair of walking shoes – you don’t need any additional fancy fitness equipment which is a major perk.
How can I increase my daily step count?
An actual walking routine will allow you uninterrupted time to dedicate to staying active. But any amount of walking you do during the day counts towards your daily steps. If you’re having trouble carving out time for your daily walk, try sneaking it into an otherwise busy routine. This is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (a.k.a. NEAT), essentially the energy we expend for everything that is not eating, sleeping or formal exercise (think walking to work, tending to your yard, even typing).
You can start maximizing your daily NEAT by taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking farther away from the store, office and restaurant entrances instead of circling the lot for a closer spot. Take a walking meeting while on the phone, or catch up with friends and family over the phone while walking outside. Even forgoing online grocery delivery and going to shop in-person can rack up that daily step count as you peruse the aisles and carry the groceries to the car.
The bottom line: Walking is one of the simplest ways to stay active and get moving. Prior studies have linked a regular walking regimen to reduced risk of heart disease, improved cognition and more. New research shows that you may reap benefits of walking as little as roughly 2,300 steps a day for reducing risk of heart disease and just under 4,000 steps a day to begin reducing the risk of dying from all causes. But additional benefits were seen with an extra 500 to 1000 steps daily, regardless of age or gender – all the more reason to lace up and get moving!
Nutrition Lab Director
Stefani (she/her) is a registered dietitian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, where she handles all nutrition-related content, testing and evaluation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. She is also Good Housekeeping’s on-staff fitness and exercise expert. Stefani is dedicated to providing readers with evidence-based content to encourage informed food choices and healthy living. She is an avid CrossFitter and a passionate home cook who loves spending time with her big fit Greek family.