Walking Just This Far May Improve Your Heart, Says New Study

If you find yourself falling short of 10,000 steps a day, don't worry: Recent research suggests that this more achievable daily walking goal can give you a healthier heart, and a longer life.

If the thought of hitting 10,000 steps daily makes you want to sprint back to bed, we have some heartening news that will put a spring in your step. Recent findings from an international study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology in October 2023 suggest that a lower step count might be just as effective for boosting heart health.

Francisco B. Ortega, PhD, study author and professor of the University of Granada’s Department of Physical Education and Sports, emphasizes the need for a shift in perspective in a recent press release: “Traditionally, many people thought that you had to reach about 10,000 steps a day to obtain health benefits—an idea that came out of Japan in the 1960s but had no basis in science.” This study shifts the paradigm, promoting a more attainable step count as a pathway to wellness.

A closer look at the study

Researchers analyzed data from 12 studies involving over 110,000 participants. The findings? More steps are generally better, but there’s no need to overdo it. “We’ve shown for the first time that the more steps you take, the better, and that there is no excessive number of steps that [have] been proven to be harmful to health,” highlights Dr. Ortega. Aim for about 7,000 steps for heart health and around 8,000 to decrease the risk of premature death. (8,000 steps translates to 6.4 kilometers or around 3.9 miles daily.)

For those just starting a walking routine or people with a lower baseline of activity, there’s good news: Beginning with as little as 2,600 to 2,800 steps a day can still bring considerable benefits for mortality and cardiovascular health. The team’s research points out that even minor increases in daily steps can significantly enhance one’s health, especially for those starting at lower activity levels. “Every additional 500 steps improves health,” they explain, encouraging everyone to begin with manageable goals and gradually increase as feasible.

The study also notes that increasing your walking pace can improve health outcomes by reducing mortality risk, independent of how many steps you take daily.

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Personalizing your daily step count

“More steps are never bad,” Dr. Ortega affirms. While the research suggests aiming for between 7,000 and 9,000 steps daily to reap significant health benefits, it also emphasizes the importance of individualized goals that reflect your age and fitness level. Some might feel encouraged to aim higher, while others may see more benefit from a steady, moderate increase.

Dr. Ortega also reminds us of the broader implications of this study: It’s primarily about reducing risks of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular diseases. However, the benefits of an active lifestyle extend far beyond these parameters. “There are other studies and a large body of scientific evidence that show that doing moderate and even vigorous physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including improvements in sleep quality and mental health, among many others,” he adds.

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Here’s what you can do

The key takeaway is a simple but powerful one: Get moving and keep moving. Whether you’re already active or looking to start, the research confirms that every step counts. As you embark on your health journey this New Year, remember that a healthy heart doesn’t necessarily require 10,000 steps a day. A more achievable daily walk, personalized to your lifestyle and capabilities, can lead to significant health improvements.

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Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.