For years we’ve been hearing that taking 10,000 steps a day is the magic number to get healthier.  To that end, many people bought fitness trackers to keep track of the number of steps with the goal of reaching near or beyond the 10,000 steps.  Recently a new study looking at data from over 78,000 people gives us new insight into these goals.  The key findings showed that walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day led to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death compared to walking the same number of steps but at a slower pace.

Specifically, researchers found that every 2,000 steps taken lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease, and cancer by about 10%.  Averaging 9,800 steps a day reduced the risk of dementia by 50%, and taking only 3,800 steps reduced the risk by of 25%.

The real benefit of this study comes with the findings of adding more intensity in the activity.  Research found that participants who walked at a brisk pace (80-100 steps per minute) had greater health benefits than those who walked slowly for the same amount of time.  Brisk walkers had a 35% lower risk of premature death, 25% lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer, and 30% lower risk of developing dementia.  As well, these brisk walkers did not need to reach 10,000 steps to reap these benefits.    Taking just 2,400-3,000 steps resulted in sharp reductions of these health conditions.  It also does not have to be a consecutive 30 minutes of brisk walking, it can be brief bursts of brisk activity through the day.

Intensity of effort varies for every individual.  A good gage is the following:

Light Exercise:

A person can easily sing a song

Moderate Intensity:

A person can carry a conversation but find it hard to sing

High Intensity:

A person will have a hard time having a conversation

Moderate intensity (brisk walking for some) would not only lower the risks of the previously mentioned illnesses but would also lower blood pressure, moderate blood sugar levels, and lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.  The key is to be active at a pace that is manageable but pushes the comfort boundaries.