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Two people holding hands and walking together in a park with green grass on a sunny day.
Two people holding hands and walking together in a park with green grass on a sunny day.

How Many Steps a Day Should You Take to Improve Your Heart Health?

It’s Fewer Than You Think, Per a Northwestern Medicine Study

Walking is a simple action with many benefits — including improving heart health. For many years, 10,000 steps per day was a widely shared benchmark but it originates from a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000-step meter.”

Every step counts.
— Mercedes Carnethon, PhD

A 2023 Northwestern Medicine study found that older adults (people aged 60 and older) who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps per day had a 40% to 50% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke, compared to those who took 2,000 steps per day.

While the distance of each person’s stride is different, walking 6,000 steps equals roughly 2.5 miles and 9,000 steps is a little more than 4 miles.

“This is encouraging news for older adults who might not be physically able to reach 10,000 steps a day,” says Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, vice chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-author of the study. These findings were based on eight studies that involved 20,152 people ages 18 and older. Each participant wore a device to track the number of steps taken, and the researcher tracked participants’ health for six years.

Importance of Walking

Overall, the study showed that any amount of walking — powerwalking or leisurely strolls — can improve heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in older adults.

The study didn’t find a connection between the number of steps taken and cardiovascular disease for younger adults. However, staying active is key to your overall health and well-being, no matter your age.

Not getting enough physical activity can increase the risk for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

How to Incorporate More Steps

For starters: Walk everywhere you can. “We don’t have to put barriers up. It doesn’t matter if you walk slowly or need to take a break — every step counts,” says Dr. Carnethon.

There are many little things you can do to add more steps into your daily routine:

  • Take the stairs
  • Walk during a lunch break
  • Park near the back of the parking lot
  • Pace during TV commercial breaks
  • Enlist a walking buddy
  • Incorporate walking into your commute

In addition to moving more, it’s also important to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is essential to good heart health.

If you have questions or concerns about your ability to walk, talk to your physician.