Studies track step counts in relation to health outcomes

The studies, published in leading journals JAMA internal medicine and JAMA Neurologymonitored 78,500 adults with wearable trackers – making them the largest studies to objectively track step counts for health outcomes.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, and the University of Southern Denmark have found that a reduced risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death is associated with taking 10,000 steps per day. However, a faster pace of stepping like brisk walking has shown benefits beyond the number of steps taken.

The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits, people might not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps per day, but also aim to walk faster.”

Dr Matthew Ahmadi, co-lead author, researcher at the Charles Perkins Center and the University of Sydney School of Medicine and Health

“For people who are less active, our study also demonstrates that as little as 3,800 steps per day can reduce the risk of dementia by 25%,” said co-lead author, Associate Professor Borja del Pozo Cruz of the University of Southern Denmark and Senior Health Researcher at the University of Cadiz.

Key points:

  • Every 2,000 steps gradually reduced the risk of premature death by 8-11%, up to about 10,000 steps per day.
  • Similar associations were observed for cardiovascular disease and cancer incidence.
  • A higher number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of dementia from all causes
  • 9,800 steps was the optimal dose linked to a 50% reduced risk of dementia, but the risk was reduced by 25% at just 3,800 steps per day
  • Step intensity or faster pace showed beneficial associations for all outcomes (dementia, heart disease, cancer, and death) beyond total daily step count.

“Step counts are easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but people rarely think about the pace of their steps,” said the lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, physical activity teacher. , Lifestyle and Population Health at the University of Sydney.

“Findings from these studies could inform the first formal stage-based physical activity guidelines and help develop effective public health programs aimed at preventing chronic disease.”

How was the study conducted?

The study used data from the UK Biobank to link step count data from 78,500 UK adults aged 40-79 with health outcomes 7 years later. Participants wore a wrist accelerometer to measure physical activity over a 7-day period (minimum 3 days, including one weekend day and monitoring during sleep periods).

With ethical consent, this information was linked to participants’ health records through multiple data sources and registries, including inpatient hospitals, primary care records, and cancer and death registries.

Only those who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or dementia at baseline and free of disease during the first two years of the study were included in the final assessment. Statistical adjustments were also made for confounders, such as people who take more steps generally walk faster.

The researchers note that the studies are observational, meaning they cannot show direct cause and effect, however, note the strong and consistent associations seen in both population-level studies.

“The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers make them the strongest evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps per day is the sweet spot for health benefits and that walking faster is associated with added benefits,” said Dr. Matthew Ahmadi.

“Further research with longer-term use of trackers will shed more light on the health benefits associated with certain levels and intensity of daily walking.”


Journal references:

  • del Pozo Cruz, B., et al. (2022) Association of daily step count and intensity with onset dementia in 78,430 adults living in the UK. JAMA Neurology.
  • del Pozo Cruz, B., et al. (2022) Prospective associations of daily step count and intensity with cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and all-cause mortality. JAMA internal medicine.


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