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You May Need Less Than 10,000 Steps Per Day to Help You Live Longer, Study Says

Health + Wellness
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Fitness tracking apps and personal step counters like Fitbit often prescribe walking 10,000 steps per day as a benchmark for achieving better health, but longevity benefits may kick in well before that for older women, a new study has found.


Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that older women who took even just 4,400 steps per day on average had lower mortality rates than those who only reached 2,700 or fewer steps each day. In all, women who hit at least 4,400 steps were 41 percent less likely to die during the more than four-year follow-up period compared with less active women, NPR reported.

The study, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, consisted of nearly 17,000 women participating in the Women's Health Study with a mean age of 72 years and as old as 101 years, whose steps per day were measured by a clip-on wearable device during a seven-day period between 2011 and 2015. The women continued to report their diets, lifestyle choices and other health records until their data was analyzed between 2018 and 2019.

But before you start boosting your daily step quota, the study may have found that the association has a limit: the women's mortality rates decreased the more steps they took each day only until they reached 7,500 steps, at which point the health benefits appeared to plateau.

"Our message is not a new message: Physical activity is good for you. What's new and striking is how little you need to do to make a difference," lead author, I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told HealthDay. Currently, federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per day.

The women in the study averaged just under 5,500 steps per day, which is in line with previous research into how much physical activity the average American adult gets. The study also found that the number of steps taken was more closely linked with lower mortality rates than step intensity. These findings add to a growing body of research indicating that even minimal amounts of daily exercise can ward off health problems in older people.

"Just do a little bit. If you just do a little bit, you're better off," Lee told Time. "Don't be discouraged if you don't meet 10,000 steps."

The study was limited in that it was observational and could not show a cause-and-effect relationship and it only dealt with women, Time reported. Lee believes the results of future studies might be similar for older men as well, CNN reported, but not necessarily for different age groups: younger people might require more steps, she said.

Lee said the idea of people needing 10,000 steps per day for health dates back to a Japanese pedometer created in the 1960's. The machine was called "Manpo-kei," which means "10,000 steps meter" in Japanese, Lee told CNN. This figure eventually took off in the United States as a popular health recommendation without much supporting scientific evidence, NPR reported.

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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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