Walking 8,000 Steps Just Once per Week May Improve Longevity by 15%, a New Study Suggests

Sure, 10,000 steps per day is a great goal, but a couple of shorter strolls might already improve your heart health.

a photo of a woman walking on a trail with her dog
Photo: Getty Images

If the thought of spin class, a CrossFit workout or training for a 10K sounds about as fun as visiting the dentist—but you grit through it anyway since you're aware of how great physical activity is for your brain and body—we have some good news. You need not bound through box jumps or sweat through the cycling sprints to support a long and healthy life.

Walking is definitely a good enough workout to count as "exercise." The health benefits of walking include steadier blood sugar, reduced risk for dementia, a sunnier mood and more.

Ten thousand steps per day, every day, has been the much-promoted goal for decades. (ICYMI, the first commercial pedometer, hit store shelves in 1965 and was called "Manpo-kei," which means 10,000 steps in Japanese.) That's a laudable goal, but a mounting body of evidence suggests that small steps really add up, and you can start accruing some legit health wins well below that level.

According to new research published on March 28 in JAMA Network Open, people who walked briskly for 8,000 steps per day once or twice per week were 14.9% less likely to die during the course of the next 10 years compared to their peers who were more sedentary.

Read on to learn more about how this walking study was performed, what 8,000 steps really look like and what "brisk" means, exactly.

What This Walking Study Found

Since a 2017 study in Nature reported that American adults, on average, take just 4,800 steps a day, the scientists involved in this new walking study wanted to learn more about the potential health impacts of tallying less than 10,000 steps.

To analyze this, they looked at data from the 2005 and 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to identify a nationally representative sample of 3,101 American adults 20 years and older who had worn accelerometers over the course of one week. They then cross-referenced this information with the same cohort 10 years later in the National Death Index.

Those who walked 8,000 or more steps on one or two days per week appeared to have about 15% lower risk of dying during the ensuing decade than those who did not take 8,000 steps on any of the days—a statistically significant difference. The risk of death continued to decline a bit more when they looked at those who met the goal on more days. (Three to seven days per week was linked to a 16.5% decrease in death from any cause and from heart disease.)

So what do 8,000 brisk steps look like, exactly? It's about 4 miles. Depending on which fitness experts or organizations you ask, you can tell you've reached a "brisk walking" pace if:

  • You're racking up 100 steps per minute
  • You're striding 3 miles per hour
  • You're moving fast enough that your breathing becomes heavy enough to still talk but not quite sing

At a 3 mph pace, 8,000 steps would take about 80 minutes, which the lead study author Kosuke Inoue, M.D., an assistant professor at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, admits is no small ask.

That said, you need not crank out all 8,000 steps at once. You should score the same health and longevity benefits from several shorter periods of brisk walking, Inoue confirms. If a January 2023 study in the American College of Sports Medicine's journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise holds true, 5-minute walks every 30 minutes might be a surprisingly health-smart strategy if that feels more doable to you.

The Bottom Line

A new walking study reveals that walking 8,000 steps one to two days per week may lower the risk of death over the course of the next 10 years. This is just one study (and a fairly small one), though, and there's still a lot we don't know about how many steps—and how often—are best for optimal health.

But until we know more, you can rest assured that any steps are better than none. If you can't quite meet the World Health Organization's physical activity recommendations, even a brisk walk each day on the weekends can help move the needle.

If you're feeling inspired to hit the road, try this four-week walking plan to help slash stress.

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