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Why Walking Only 3,867 Steps a Day Is All You Need, Science Says

Even short walks can transform your health and help you live longer.

With the rise in popularity of fitness trackers, reaching 10,000 steps per day has become a popular fitness goal. Now, a new Aug. 2023 study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that walking far less—just under 4,000 steps daily—can help you make significant strides in your health.

The new finding may be especially motivational for individuals who feel that bigger fitness goals are out of reach—and these are exactly the people who stand to gain the most from getting started. Adrian Todd, an occupational therapist, hiking coach, and the founder of Great Minds Think Hike, says the study serves as an important reminder that "something is always better than nothing." In other words, moving your body—whether for 10 minutes of walking, stretching, or weight lifting—is always better than skipping it.

Wondering what you stand to gain by walking for roughly 45 minutes per day? Read on to learn why 3,867 steps may be all you need to get yourself into better health.

RELATED: 8 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Take a Daily Walk.

Walking can reduce your mortality risk.

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To understand the benefits of regular walking, the ESC conducted a meta-analysis of 17 different studies which included data from 226,889 study subjects from around the world. The team concluded that the more those people walked, the less likely they were to die of all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular problems in particular.

For every additional 1,000 steps the participants took on a daily basis, they experienced a 15 percent reduction in risk of death from any cause. For every additional 500 steps they took, they experienced a seven percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

RELATED: 6 Best Walking Workouts for Weight Loss.

Here's why it helps.

senior man on a walk
Mladen Mitrinovic / Shutterstock

Any form of exercise that you can stick to is sure to improve your health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. They note that walking is an especially accessible form of exercise since it requires no special skills beyond basic mobility.

Andrew White, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Pro, says there are several ways that walking improves your health and fitness: "Walking engages multiple muscle groups, from the legs to the core, without putting undue stress on the joints."

White adds that when we walk, the heart pumps faster, which increases blood circulation and provides more oxygen and nutrients to cells.

"This enhanced circulation helps in maintaining good cardiovascular health. Regular walking also aids in regulating blood sugar levels and can be instrumental in weight management, which indirectly reduces the risk of various lifestyle-related diseases," White explains. "Additionally, walking is a weight-bearing exercise, which can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis."

RELATED: 5 Daily Walk Benefits You'll See in 1 Month.

Getting just under 4,000 steps per day lowers your mortality risk.

Shot of two senior women walking together in morning with sun shining from behind
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Besides looking at the broader benefits of a walking routine, the ESC study also identified the turning point at which people began to see a tangible reduction in their all-cause mortality risk. This occurred at just 3,867 steps.

"Our analysis indicates that as little as 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce deaths from any cause, and even fewer to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease," the study authors said via press release.

They noted that taking just 2,337 steps per day had a positive effect on the heart compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle.

RELATED: 8 Easy Ways to Make Walking More Fun.

There's no upper limit to the benefits.

woman on a walk
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While 4,000 steps came with clear benefits, many experts agree that setting your step goals even higher is a worthwhile challenge. In fact, the ESC team identified no upper limit to the health benefits of walking: The more the subjects walked (some people took up to 20,000 steps daily), the lower their mortality rates were.

The one exception is if you have a specific injury that could be worsened by walking. Talk to your doctor about whether your exercise routine could pose a problem if you have any chronic concerns.

RELATED: 5 Clothing Items You Shouldn't Wear on a Walk.

Start small and build from there, experts say.

older man and woman walking arm and arm
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Experts say that even if you don't have time or endurance for a longer stroll, taking three 15-minute walks per day—for instance, in the morning, at lunchtime, and after work—can help you reach a 4,000-step goal.

White says that as you build up your tolerance, you can extend those sessions and reap more benefits: "I would recommend building this up over time to at least a 30-minute walk and longer if you're able."

While tracking your progress can be a helpful motivator, it's best not to get bogged down by numbers, instead focusing on how you feel, White adds. Noting physical improvements to your stamina, mood, or weight can be a major motivator to help you keep going

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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