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A study found hitting the 8,000-step goal just one to two days per week is still associated with a significant reduction in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Third Eye Images/Getty Images
  • Current research suggests that walking 8,000 brisk steps or more per day may be the sweet spot for receiving the health benefits walking provides.
  • People who have trouble finding time to walk each day of the week will be encouraged by a new study that demonstrates walking just one to two days is still associated with a significant reduction in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.
  • The study’s authors found that each additional day walked confers greater benefits.

Briskly walking 8,000 or more steps each day of the week is associated with a significant decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. A new study finds, however, that people taking just 8,000 steps one or two days a week are also less likely to die over a 10-year follow-up period.

The study published in JAMA Network Open found that over a decade of follow-up, people 20 years or older who took 8,000 or more steps on one or two days a week were 14.9% less likely to die compared to people who were sedentary.

The risk of death dropped as the number of days involved increased. For example, exercising from three to seven days a week was associated with a 16.5% reduction in all-cause and cardiovascular deaths.

The same pattern held true for people meeting step goals of 6,000 to 10,000 steps.

Previous research found that mortality risk decreases up to 10,000 steps per day for people younger than 60 and 8,000 for people older than 60.

The study’s findings pertain to both “weekend warriors,” people who confine their exercise to non-work days, and to people who steal a few hours to walk during the week.

The study cites recent data showing the average American takes just 4,800 steps a day, too few to provide much of a health benefit.

“Brisk walking” is defined as walking three miles an hour. If you can speak song lyrics but not sing them, you are walking briskly.

The current study compared data from the U.S. 2005 and 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with the National Death Index up to the year 2019. It incorporated accelerometer data from 3,101 participants 20 years or older and was a nationally representative sample. It included a similar number of women and men, and 50.9% were White, 21.5% Black, 23.7% Hispanic, and 3.9% other race and ethnicity.

The participants most likely to walk 8,000 or more steps every day were more likely to be young, male, Hispanic, insured, and married. They were also typically never-smokers and were less likely to be obese or have comorbidities.

For many people, walking 8,000 steps each day requires a significant commitment of time. 8,000 steps are about four miles, which, walking at three miles per hour, comes to a total of about an hour and 20 minutes every day. Steps can be taken simultaneously or in shorter periods of brisk walking.

The study was led by Dr. Kosuke Inoue of Kyoto University in Japan, collaborating with researchers from UCLA in California. Dr. Inoue explained why the study was undertaken:

“We started this study to answer the question one of my patients asked during an outpatient clinic: ‘It is hard for me to keep sufficient steps every day. Is it okay to focus on walking only during the weekend?’”

Steps studies often consider the value of a week’s worth of various step goals, and Dr. Inoue saw a lack of evidence regarding the possible benefits of walking just a few days a week.

“Given that a lack of time is one of the major barriers to exercise in modern society,” said Dr. Inoue, “our findings provide useful information to recommend walking even for a couple of days per week to reduce mortality risk.”

“This is one of the first studies to use direct measures of daily steps using a wearable accelerometer over a 10-year followup period,” said Dr. Paul Arciero, a professor in the Health and Human Physiological Sciences Department at Skidmore College, who was not involved in the study.

Walking is viewed as a simple, low impact means of making a person’s life less sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

“Further, a sedentary lifestyle drastically increases the risk of cardiometabolic disease such as abdominal obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and certain inflammatory conditions and cancers,” said Dr. Arciero.

Walking can help a person maintain a healthy weight, strengthen muscles and bones, and lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Walking has also been linked to promoting a better mood.

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According to Harvard Medical School, taking one’s steps has additional, less-obvious benefits. Walking offsets the effect of weight-promoting genes, reduces breast cancer risk, and boosts one’s immune system. It can also lessen arthritis-based joint pain, and even a 15-minute walk can curb a craving for chocolate, both generally and in response to stress.

The study’s findings should provide valuable information for clinicians and health professionals, said Dr. Inoue. He suggested a reader’s takeaway should be that for people who have difficulties engaging in regular exercise, “achieving recommended daily steps only a couple of days per week can have meaningful health benefits.”

Describing the study’s conclusions as “encouraging,” Dr. Arciero suggested the study may help people who don’t have enough time to walk 8,000 steps a day overcome feelings that walking less is pointless.

“We now have scientific evidence that proves this mindset is not true, and even a couple of days is beneficial!” said Dr. Arciero.

He said the study underscores the value of increasing one’s daily step count:

“Always a good reminder that any amount of walking, even one to two days per week, is still better than no walking.”