How Much Exercise Is Enough to Extend Your Life?

by | Oct 12, 2021 | News Briefs

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The current exercise recommendations from the CDC (and the American Heart Association) are described in terms of minutes rather than steps.

It’s no secret that regular exercise leads to better health, but how much of it is necessary to make a real difference? Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise for those of middle age and older, and a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers a new look at how much walking it takes to boost chances for a longer life.

Many have adopted 10,000 steps per day as the gold standard for walking fitness. This goal was first promoted in the 1960s to market a pedometer Manpo-kei (“10,000 steps meter”) invented by a Japanese professor of health science.

Recognizing the wide use of the steps-per-day metric in promoting physical activity, a team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Kaiser Permanente, the CDC and other organizations made an effort to discover if an association could be found between steps taken and all-cause mortality.

They drew data from a group of more than 5,000 men and women enrolled in a long-term study of heart disease between 1985 and 1986. At a 20-year follow up exam in 2005-2006, more than two thousand of the participants were asked to wear a device that could measure both number of the steps and their intensity for seven consecutive days. (The devices were worn at all times while subjects were awake and captured all activity, not just periods dedicated to exercise.)

The researchers looked for records of deaths within this group through the year 2018, and any associations between mortality and the step counts that had been collected. They found that adults taking at least 7,000 steps per day had a 50 to 70 percent lower risk of death than those taking less than this.

They also found that taking more than 10,000 steps per day did not reduce this risk any further. “There was a point of diminishing returns,” principal investigator Amanda Paluch of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told the New York Times.

Another recent study attempted to translate various forms of exercise favored by a group of nearly 9,000 Danes—e.g., swimming, tennis, cycling—into step equivalents. It found that, based on these estimates, those who exercised an amount equivalent to 7-8,000 steps most days were 40 percent less likely to die over the 25-year period they examined.

The current exercise recommendations from the CDC (and the American Heart Association) are described in terms of minutes rather than steps; 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity such as jogging or running. Smartphones and fitness trackers notwithstanding, this metric may be easier for some to track than steps.

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance


The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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