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You’ve probably heard that you should take 10,000 steps a day for good health. But it’s not really a hard and fast rule. Research shows that as you age, you’ll be able to take fewer steps and still get serious benefits.

If you’re over 60, for example, you can stay healthy by cutting a 10,000-step goal by about half. “There is no single magic number,” says Amanda Paluch, assistant professor of kinesiology and physical activity researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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

Getting your steps up — even less than 10,000 — can have other benefits, too. In another 2022 study, taking just 4,000 steps daily was associated with 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 steps or more daily had a 59 percent lower risk of diabetes than those who were less active. That decline in risk is down to 8,000 steps.

Risks of heart disease and cancer seem to follow the same pattern, with uncertain benefits at about 10,000 steps. According to a 2022 study in Nature Medicine, a higher step count may be associated with a lower risk for sleep apnea, reflux, depression and obesity.

“Perhaps with every decade, you may need fewer steps per day to produce a physiological response that can lead to health benefits,” says Paluch.

Incidentally: In the Lancet study, young adults did not get a significant mortality benefit from getting 8,000 to 10,000 steps. But for those over 60 years of age, the point of diminishing returns comes in steps of 6,000 to 8,000. This may be because a certain amount of exercise, such as walking half a mile, may be more strenuous for the average 70-year-old than for the average 40-year-old.

You don’t need a minimum number of steps to increase your health. “It’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” Paluch said. “Each 1,000 to 2,000 step increase can lead to health benefits, especially for those starting at lower activity levels.”

David R. is a physical activity researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. To figure out your step goal, start by measuring how many steps you get in a typical week, says Bassett. (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.

Continue to increase your daily steps until you’re between 6,000 and 8,000 steps if you’re 60 or older, or between 8,000 and 10,000 steps if you’re younger.

If you are already at the top of your range, continue to do so. If you think you can do more, go for it. But don’t worry if you can’t hit a certain target.

“Do what you think you’re capable of,” Bassett says. As long as you’re moving, you’re reaping some benefits.

Copyright 2022, Consumer Reports Inc.

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