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You may have heard that you should take 10,000 steps a day for your health. But it’s not really an absolute rule. Research reveals that you may be able to take fewer steps as you age and still get some serious benefits.

If you’re over 60, for example, you might be able to cut a 10,000 step goal almost in half and still be healthy. “There’s no one magic number,” says Amanda Paluch, a physical activity researcher and assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In a large analysis of research on this question, published in 2022 in the journal Lancet Public Health, scientists found that the risk of premature death decreases as the number of daily steps increases. People who walked around 5,800 steps per day, for example, had a 40% lower risk of premature death than those who took the fewest steps, around 3,600 per day.

Getting into your steps – even well below 10,000 – can have other benefits as well. In another study from 2022, taking just under 4,000 daily steps was linked to a lower risk of dementia. And according to a study of 70-year-olds published in the journal BMC Public Health, those who took 4,500 or more daily steps had a 59% lower risk of diabetes than those who were less active. This drop in risk leveled off at 8,000 steps.

The risk of developing heart disease and cancer appears to follow a similar pattern, with uncertain benefits beyond about 10,000 steps. A high number of steps may also be associated with a lower risk of sleep apnea, reflux, depression and obesity, according to a 2022 study in Nature Medicine.

“It’s likely that with each decade, you’ll need fewer steps per day to create a physiological response that could have health benefits,” Paluch says.

Case in point: In the Lancet study, young adults did not experience substantial mortality benefits beyond 8,000 to 10,000 steps. But for people over 60, the point of diminishing returns was between 6,000 and 8,000 steps. This may be because a certain amount of exercise, such as walking half a mile, may be more strenuous for an average 70-year-old compared to an average 40-year-old.

There is no minimum number of steps you need to improve your health. “It’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” Paluch says. “Each increase of 1,000 to 2,000 steps can have health benefits, especially for those starting at lower activity levels.”

To determine your step goal, start by quantifying the number of steps you take in a typical week, says David R. Bassett, physical activity researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. (Use a simple pedometer or your phone.) Then increase your daily average by 500 to 1,000. Once you can hit that new number consistently for a week, add another 500 to 1,000 steps.

Keep increasing your daily steps until you’re in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 steps if you’re 60 or older, or 8,000 to 10,000 if you’re younger.

If you’re already at the top of your range, keep going. If you feel you can do more, go for it. But don’t worry if you can’t hit a certain target.

“Do what you feel you are capable of doing,” Bassett says. As long as you move, you reap benefits.

Copyright 2022, Consumer Reports Inc.

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