We’re all well-versed in the importance of staying active. But if you’ve been cooped up for weeks, you might be having a hard time hitting that elusive 10,000-step mark. Don’t be too tough on yourself: According to a recent study, the ideal step count might actually be a good deal lower.

According to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, women who walked just 4,400 steps a day had a significantly lower mortality rate than women who took 2,700 or fewer steps per day. 

The study followed the walking habits of 16,741 women age 62 to 101. The researchers then checked in with the subjects over the course of 4.3 years. The mortality rate among more active subjects decreased steadily between 4,400 and 7,500 daily steps; above that step count, the rate leveled off.

The origin of 10,000 steps

So why the obsession with getting 10,000 steps every day? The goal may originate with product placement, not research.

Women who walked just 4,400 steps a day had a significantly lower mortality rate than women who took 2,700 or fewer steps per day.

I-Min Lee, the lead author of the study, told CNN that the original number dates back to 1965 and a Japanese pedometer company.

These early pedometers were called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 step meter” in Japanese. “That number was less based on science than on marketing purposes,” Lee explained

So before you frantically do laps around your kitchen at the end of each day to meet your 10,000 mark, remember that 4,400 to 7,500 is a much more attainable, and incredibly effective, step number. 

Physical activity guidelines for older adults

As always, consult your physician before starting a new fitness regimen. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. That could be a 30-minute walk five days a week or a roughly 22-minute walk every day.

The Department of Health and Human Services offers physical activity guidelines for people of all ages. For older adults, HHS notes that if you can’t do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, you should “be as physically active as abilities and conditions allow.”

“It isn’t cheating to break your 150 minutes a week into small increments,” explains Libby Richards, Associate Professor of Nursing at Purdue University. “In fact, even for people who are physically fit and exercise every day, breaking up periods of sitting is critically important. Even if you are getting enough exercise, sitting for the rest of the day can undo the health benefits of your workout. If you aren’t yet ready to aim for 2.5 hours of brisk walking each week, reducing the time you spend sitting would be a great starting goal.”

A different kind of walk

One of the best ways to lower your stress level is to take a mindfulness walk for 10 minutes every day (while practicing social distancing). Here are four ways to start a ritual of mindfulness walking:

1. Resolve to walk for 10 minutes each day

Dress appropriately for the weather, and start with a stroll in your neighborhood. Don’t put on your headphones. If you invite someone along, be sure to tell him or her that the walk is about being quiet and noticing your surroundings, not about chatting.

2. As you walk, allow your mind to go where it wants 

“Your mind will wander,” says Lynn Koerbel, Assistant Director of MBSR Teacher Training and Curricula Development at the Mindfulness Center at Brown. “That’s OK. Recognize that it’s a thought and only a thought. Then say, ‘Now I’m going to notice the breeze on my face.’” In other words, keep coming back to your observations about where you are now.

3. Be willing to be surprised by what’s around you 

You will notice birds. You will observe people. You might see nothing! All of it can be a source of wonder, if you allow yourself to see it that way. Wonder brings joy to those who observe it. And joy can bring better health.

4. Pledge to take care of yourself 

This walk is for you and part of your effort at self-care, Koerbel says. Be comfortable. Be grateful for your ability to venture out and be faithful to your commitment to it.