If you are looking to improve your health, walking is the panacea. For those who can, the simple act of regularly putting one foot in front of the other for a certain part of the day tones your heart muscle, lowers your risk of disease, reduces joint pain and boosts your immunity.

It’s a exercise which for the most part requires no special equipment, can be practiced indoors or outdoors, and is accessible to people of almost any fitness level. It’s close enough to perfection that Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls it “the closest thing we have to a miracle drug.”

Yet scientists have dug deeper to see if we’ve extracted the maximum benefit from this super exercise.

7,000 is the new 10,000 steps

When you wear any type of fitness watch or step counter, the default programmed daily step goal is usually 10,000. But where does that figure come from? A recent study in The Lancet delved into the merits of 10,000 steps a day and found that 7,000 steps are closer to what people need to stay healthy.

“These 10,000 steps have never been peer-reviewed,” says Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon in New York and author of Longevity… Simplified: Living a Longer, Healthier Life Shouldn’t Be Complicated. “There’s been a lot of studies lately that show we really only need 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day to get a pretty significant benefit.”

And the older you are, the fewer steps per day you benefit from, Luks says. The under-40s set can aim for the higher numbers, like 8,000 or more.

When setting a step goal, think first about your own personal improvement rather than an arbitrary number, says NiCole Keith, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University-Purdue and past president of the American College. of Sports Medicine.

“Ten thousand steps is a lot of steps,” she said. “If you’re an active person and you walk all the time, or you work in manual labor and you’re on your feet and carrying things and walking around like a box door or something, That’s great. But if you’re a receptionist and you only get 3,000, set yourself a goal of reaching 3,500. Then see if you can push it to 4,000.

Intervals and walking poles add additional benefits

Certain walking methods may have specific additional benefits. A 2017 study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that interval training — pricking up your regular walking pace with faster pushups — helps reverse muscle cell breakdown and improve muscle power in people aged 65 to 80. recent study on walking while holding sticks (Nordic walking) can improve your heart function faster than normal walking.

But while these particular modifications can bring some benefits, Keith advises not to let the quest for the “perfect” method of walking keep you from walking at all.

“It’s nice to have these studies and to have people paying attention to them, but we don’t want people to come away thinking they have to do it this way or not at all,” she says. . “The ultimate message is to just walk in, get out there, and do it the way that’s available to you.”

The downstream effects of immobility and sedentary behavior are terrible, Luks says. Focus on moving your body regularly so the steps add up and you’ll reap the benefits you need.

“There’s no ‘wrong’ way to walk,” he says. “I think it’s far too easy for people to make excuses not to do something if it’s too difficult. Is walking faster probably a bit better? Sure. Is walking a little longer a little better? Sure. However, if at the end of the day your watch or phone says you’ve logged the total number of steps, you’re good to go. »

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