Stay healthy in 2,500 or more easy steps: Dutch researchers recalibrate daily exercise needed

While the more you walk the better it is, measurable positive results are obtained even at the lower level

While fitness enthusiasts the world over strive daily towards the magical number of 10,000 steps required to keep fit, lose weight, and reduce the likelihood of premature death, it seems we’ve all been trying too hard – 7,126 a day is all we need.

New research by Radboud University medical centre in the Netherlands, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that beyond that point there is no perceptible decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease, the notoriously “silent killer” caused by physical inactivity.

The importance of the new research, however, goes further than the good motivational news of introducing a new equally beneficial but more-achievable lower target, says Dutch biomedical researcher Niels Stens.

“What really sets this study apart is that we show for the first time that measurable health benefits can be obtained by walking about 2,500 steps a day – and that every additional 500 steps continues to improve our health.


“For those who hesitate to put on their walking shoes, that’s good news because it shows there are achievable health benefits at the lower end of the spectrum, and they shouldn’t be put off by the fact that not everyone can manage to walk 7,000 steps a day.”

The idea of counting steps was never, it turns out, based on rigorous scientific research.

It was first used in the marketing build-up to the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 and branded in Japanese as “manpo-kei” or “10,000 steps” – just as the modern pedometer or step-counter appeared on the international market.

It rapidly became the daily goal of walking clubs the world over on the grounds that here was low-impact cheap exercise with a long list of undeniable physical and mental benefits, from weight loss to improved brain function.

The scientists analysed data from 12 international studies involving more than 110,000 participants.

The results do not show any difference between men and women. Broadly speaking, walking faster is better than walking slowly. And it doesn’t matter how you count your steps, whether it’s on your smartphone, a smart watch or an activity tracker.

International physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity, says lead researcher, Thijs Eijsvogels, but most people don’t know exactly what that means. “Counting steps, however you do it, is way simpler.”

The paper, The Relationship of Daily Step Counts to All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events, is available in the journal and online from September 6th.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court