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Step Up to a Longer Life: Research Reveals Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Shields Heart and Extends Life, Even for the Sedentary!

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMay 29, 2024

A recent in-depth study titled "Do the associations of daily steps with mortality and incident cardiovascular disease differ by sedentary time levels? A device-based cohort study" published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has unearthed significant findings that could revolutionize the way we understand physical activity and its impact on health, particularly relating to heart health and lifespan. Let's break down the key elements of this research to better understand what it tells us about the steps we take every day—and more importantly, how many we should be aiming for.

The study had three main objectives: to explore how the number of steps we take daily is connected to our risk of passing away from any cause and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (like heart attack or stroke), to see if the amount of sedentary time (the time spent not moving much, like sitting or lying down) changes these relationships, and to figure out if there’s a minimum and ideal number of daily steps that might differ for those who are highly sedentary.

The Participants and the Methods: Researchers used data from a massive UK project named the UK Biobank, which collects health information from many volunteers to help with health-related research. They focused on how many steps people took each day and categorized them into two groups: those who spent less than 10.5 hours a day being sedentary and those who spent more. They tracked these volunteers until the end of October 2021 to see who would pass away or develop cardiovascular disease.

Who Was Studied? They followed a group of 72,174 participants who were, on average, 61 years old, over an average of almost seven years. During this time, 1,633 people passed away, and 6,190 people developed cardiovascular diseases.

The Key Findings Regarding Steps: Compared to those who walked only 2,200 steps a day (being the bottom 5% in terms of activity level), the researchers determined that the 'optimal' number of daily steps for the lowest risk of death was between 9,000 and 10,500 steps for both groups regardless of how sedentary they were. As for the development of cardiovascular diseases, the lowest risk was at about 9,700 steps per day for both sedentary and more active groups, although those who were less sedentary had a slightly lower risk than those who were more sedentary for the same number of steps.

They also looked at the 'minimal' dose, which is the number of steps associated with half the benefit of the optimal dose. They found that walking 4,000 to 4,500 steps a day could offer substantial benefits for reducing the risk of death and cardiovascular disease for all participants, regardless of their sedentary time.

What Does This Mean For Us? Firstly, it's good news; any amount of daily steps above a very low threshold is beneficial in reducing the risk of dying and developing heart-related diseases. Even more intriguing is that consistently walking 9,000–10,500 steps per day could offer the greatest protection against death from any cause, and it doesn't seem to matter how much time you spend sitting—as long as you reach your step count.

The research reminds us that sitting too much is not great for our health but gives a ray of hope: If you’re active enough in terms of steps, you could potentially balance out the negative effects of sitting. However, it's also clear that for optimal heart health, combining less sitting with more steps is a winning formula.

The findings of this large study give us real targets to aim for when it comes to daily activity levels, particularly tracking our steps, which many of us can easily do with smartphones and wearable devices. This could be really helpful for health professionals when giving advice on exercise and for policymakers when creating guidelines for physical activity and sedentary behavior.

In summary, the study provides us with practical and actionable information: moving more, quantified in steps, is beneficial, with 9,000–10,500 daily steps being a potentially golden range for longevity and heart health. Moreover, it suggests that moderate activity, as counted in steps, has a protective effect regardless of sedentary habits, but also hints at the advantage of combining high daily steps with less sedentary time to further reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.


Ahmadi MN, Rezende LFM, Ferrari G, et alDo the associations of daily steps with mortality and incident cardiovascular disease differ by sedentary time levels? A device-based cohort studyBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2024;58:261-268.