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You may have heard that you should take 10,000 steps every day for your health. But this is actually not a hard rule. Research has found that you may be able to take fewer steps as you get older and still get serious benefits.

If you’re over 60, for example, you might be able to cut your 10,000-step goal roughly in half and stay healthy. “There is no single magic number,” says Amanda Baloch, a physical activity researcher and assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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

Getting ahead of your steps—even fewer than 10,000—may have other benefits, too. In another 2022 study, taking fewer than 4,000 steps per day was associated with a lower risk of dementia. According to a study of 70-year-olds published in the journal BMC Public Health, those who counted 4,500 or more daily steps were 59% less likely to develop diabetes than those who were less active. This decrease in risk stabilized at 8,000 steps.

The risk of heart disease and cancer appears to follow a similar pattern, with uncertain benefits beyond about 10,000 steps. A higher step count may also be associated with a lower risk of sleep apnea, reflux, depression and obesity, according to a 2022 study in Nature Medicine.

“It’s possible that with each decade, you may need to take fewer steps per day to create a physiological response that can lead to health benefits,” says Balloch.

Case in point: In the Lancet study, younger adults didn’t get significant benefits related to mortality rates beyond 8,000 to 10,000 steps. But for those over 60, the point of diminishing returns came at 6,000 to 8,000 steps. This may be because a certain amount of exercise, such as walking a half-mile, may be more difficult for the average 70-year-old than it is for the average 40-year-old.

There is no minimum number of steps you need to take to boost your health. “It’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” says Baloch. “Every increment of 1,000 to 2,000 steps can lead to health benefits, especially for those who start out with lower activity levels.”

To figure out your step goal, start by determining how many steps you get in a typical week, says David R. Bassett, a physical activity researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. (Use a simple pedometer or your phone.) Then increase the daily rate by 500 to 1,000. Once you can reach this new number regularly for a week, add another 500 to 1,000 steps.

Keep increasing your daily steps until you reach the range of 6,000 to 8,000 steps if you’re 60 or older, or 8,000 to 10,000 if you’re younger.

If you’re already at the top of your range, keep at it. If you feel you can do more, go for it. But don’t worry if you can’t reach a certain goal.

“Do what you feel you can do,” Bassett says. As long as you’re moving, you’re reaping some benefits.

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