Science says your gender plays less of a role in determining your optimal daily step count—age and your health history matter more.
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For decades, the golden standard for how many steps a person should walk each day has been set at 10,000—but this goal wasn't borne out of a scientific study or consensus. Instead, Dr. Rathna Nuti, MD, a sports medicine physician at DFW Sports Medicine, notes that this number was created in 1965 by a Japanese company to market its pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to "10,000 steps meter." Since then, scientists have spent ample time and resources trying to develop an answer for how many steps both women and men should get in daily. In 2019, a study printed in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that women benefit from taking just 4,400 paces per day, but recent developments suggest that this number isn't entirely accurate—and shouldn't be differentiated by gender. According to a new analysis published in The Lancet, death from a health-related issue was cut in half for both men and women who walk an average of 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day. 

To obtain their findings, the researchers found 15 studies that tracked participants' average daily steps and their health outcomes throughout a time span of about 3 to 14 years. In all, the total number of participants amounted to 45,000 adults. They found that taking more steps per day was associated with a progressively lower risk of all-cause mortality up to a level that varied by age—not gender. For adults aged 60 years and older, the positive effects of walking were observed at 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day and for adults younger than 60 that sweet spot increased to 8,000 to 10,000 daily paces. Those hitting these benchmarks were 50 percent less likely to die from a health-related issue than people of the same age that did not meet this threshold. 

Once you hit this milestone, life-extending benefits plateau slightly, but there's no downside to surpassing the recommended number of steps for your age group. Less steps, however, could make a difference. To determine this, researchers split the participants into groups. The subset of people younger than 60 who took the fewest steps averaged 4,849 steps per day; for those over 60, that number was 2,841. Once a person younger than 60 hit 5,000 steps per day and someone older than 60 reached 3,000, they had less of a risk of dying than participants who walked the lowest number of steps daily. 

These findings show that when it comes to how many steps you should walk each day, age plays more of a role than gender. Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and Bowflex fitness advisor, says current research does not support a sex-related basis for recommended daily steps. "Women of different ages, fitness levels, and health histories should not have a universal daily step benchmark," Holland explains. "Instead, a better approach is to determine your current activity level by measuring your current step count over the course of a few days. Then, your goal should be to make gradual improvements over time, adding more movement into your daily routine."

While there is still plenty of debate surrounding the optimal step count for women, Dr. Nuti says to "keep less focus on the number of steps taken and more focus on the amount of time spent on activity," she says. "Your activities don't have to become a chore and can be incorporated in the things that you enjoy doing." She adds that, ultimately, the general idea behind having a steps-per-day threshold is to keep the population active, "so the number of steps taken per day doesn't differ based on gender."


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