What's in a number? Setting a daily-steps benchmark

Wearable technology has turned people from all walks of life into step-counting devotees. This focus on counting steps has scientists in search of an optimal daily number for a healthy life.

The long-held standard of 10,000 daily steps is being challenged by a different pace in modern studies, according to Dr. Cindy Lin, a rehabilitation-medicine specialist at UW Medicine.

“What we've found out through more recent research studies is that as long as you're getting over about 7,000 steps a day, that has been associated with a lower risk of early death,” says Lin.

She points to a study published this summer that tracked the walking habits of more than 2,000 adults for an average of about 11 years. Participants who took an average of at least 7,000 daily steps had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality. Additional recent research suggests the benefit may level off at about 7,500 steps per day.

If you're in search of a healthier lifestyle, Lin says the key is to gradually increase your daily steps.

"If you're only walking 3,000 steps a day, even getting to 4,000 or 5,000 is going to be a good thing for your heart health and for how you're feeling."

Walking, of course, is just one way to seek to better health. Lin encourages patients to establish any activity they enjoy as part of their routine, "so you feel like something is missing in your day or in your week when you don't do it.”

UW Medicine