Walking 5,000 Steps Three Times Per Week Could Add Three Years to Life Expectancy


LONDON – March 12, 2024 – New research published by Vitality and the London School of Economics shows that sustaining a healthy exercise habit of at least 5,000 steps three times per week for two years can add up to three years to an individual’s life expectancy and reduce their healthcare costs by up to 13%.

The research titled ‘The Vitality Habit Index’ mapped the behaviors and habits of 1 million Vitality program members* to determine the best ways to form and maintain healthy habits, and to understand the science of how healthy habits can lead to longer, healthier lives.

Globally, insufficient physical activity is associated with up to 5 million premature deaths every year and estimates suggest that one in five deaths worldwide are now associated with poor diet, with 1.5 billion people predicted to be obese by 2035.

The World Health Organization estimates that 27.5% of adults and 81% of adolescents are physically inactive. If this level of inactivity maintains, new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (such as type 2 diabetes) will cost health systems $27 billion each year.

As countries around the world deal with the strain of rising treatment costs, the Habit Index research sheds light on the small changes that people can take to improve their health and the significant impact that habitual exercise could have to make global health systems more resilient and sustainable.

“Healthy habits can profoundly extend the quality and length of life,” said Adrian Gore, Founder of Discovery Vitality. “Our data shows the impact is not only significant but applies across ages, risk factors, and health statuses – maintaining a small amount of physical activity has lasting health impacts. Given the role of behavior in health risk globally, a better understanding of the mechanisms of habits can be a powerful way to improve individual health – and to evolve our healthcare systems to prioritize preventive health.”

The benefit to the individual

Small changes to create and sustain healthier habits could have a significant impact on individuals’ health outcomes. Major positive impacts were seen across all age groups; however, this was particularly true for older generations, showing that it’s never too late to start. People aged 65 and older saw a 52% reduction in their mortality risk after sustaining a habit of 7,500 steps three or more times per week. This is significantly greater than those aged between 45 and 65, who saw a 38% reduction in their mortality risk, and the total population, who saw a 27% reduction.

The research indicates that doing 7,500 steps per day on average achieves the bulk of the reduction in common-cause mortality, with additional incremental health improvements beyond this “sweet spot.”

On average across all age groups, those who sustain a healthy physical activity habit – physical activity three times per week for more than two years – can add between 2.5 years (for men) and three (for women) to their life expectancy.

“The findings of this study are a clear call to action for policy makers to promote prevention in public health and build on the power of healthy habits to improve individual and collective health outcomes,” said Joan Costa-Font, Professor at the London School of Economics. “Successful habit-based interventions can lengthen life expectancy, entail considerable savings for public health services, improve productivity, and help address the significant long-term challenges posed by mental health, social isolation, and non-communicable diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.”

Habitual exercise lowers risk of type 2 diabetes

The research analyzed the impact of forming and sustaining a physical activity habit on an individual’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People who sustain a habit of 10,000 steps three times a week for three years can reduce their type 2 diabetes risk by up to 41%. Increasing the frequency of exercise to four or more times a week saw a 57% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Similarly, there are major benefits for those already living with type 2 diabetes. A 55-year-old with type 2 diabetes who changes from limited physical activity to sustain a habit of 5,000 steps three times a week, reduces their all-cause mortality risk by 40%.

It is estimated that 529 million people have diabetes globally costing billions in treatment each year.

Incentivizing and sustaining healthy habits

The Habit Index sheds light on the science of habit formation to understand how we can build habitual exercise habits and improve health. It shows that the most enduring physical activity habits are formed gradually, in laddered increments, starting with a lower target.

The three rules for creating robust habits emerged from the research:

  1. Start low and slow – don’t be too ambitious. Individuals who start with low- to moderate-intensity exercise at low frequency are likely to maintain their habit 1.5 times longer compared to those who start with high-intensity workouts.
  2. Use “habit laddering” – set a target from your baseline. Set the target based on aims and existing health status, for example, when inactive, starting with 2,500 steps three to five times a week serves as the “first step on the ladder.”
  3. Focus on consistency then intensity. Keep up the activity to form the habit and only increase the intensity once the action has been repeated for between six and eight weeks.

“This analysis offers meaningful learnings for the US and other countries,” said Maia Surmava, CEO, Vitality U.S. “The implications from a market and policy perspective are significant and provide insight into the impact small behavior changes can have on peoples’ health and wellbeing. Given the healthcare cost crisis in the US, following these three steps for creating robust habits could lead to notable change in both health and healthcare costs.”

One of the fundamental challenges in embedding a preventive approach to health is bridging the gap between what we know we should do to remain healthy – and what we do. Incentives and personalized rewards can help bridge this gap in the beginning, as we gradually build up healthy habits, after which behaviors become automatic and resilient to change. Tailored incentives, coupled with a scientific understanding of how to form and sustain habits, can help people live longer, healthier lives.

Notes to editors:


Recognizing the pivotal role that habits play in shaping health outcomes, Vitality has developed a data-driven tool to quantify habit formation: the Vitality Habit Index.

In total, the study looked at the habits of over 1 million Vitality members across South Africa and the UK over a 10-year period, mapping their behaviors to understand how to make healthier habits, and consequently displace unhealthy habits.

This tool scientifically defines habits using verifiable data related to physical activity and nutrition. Vitality built a predictive model per member using the previous six weeks of a member’s data to predict the behavior or action in the seventh week, and thus understand how well past behavior predicts future behavior.

Through its development, Vitality aims to understand the impact of lifestyle choices and behaviors on health, understand why individuals struggle to adhere to exercise goals, identify how to cultivate healthy habits, and discern which habits are more likely to endure.

Link to The Vitality Habit Index study findings, infographic, and media kit.

About Vitality U.S.

Guided by a core purpose of making people healthier, Vitality is the leader in improving health to unlock outcomes that matter. By blending industry-leading smart tech, data, AI, incentives, and behavioral science, we inspire healthy changes in individuals and organizations. As one of the largest health and wellbeing companies in the world, Vitality brings a dynamic and diverse perspective through successful partnerships with the most forward-thinking insurers and employers. More than 40 million people in over 40 markets globally engage in the Vitality program. For more information, visit and follow us on X and LinkedIn.

About Discovery

Discovery Limited is a South African-founded financial services organization that operates in the healthcare, life assurance, short-term insurance, banking, savings and investment and wellness markets. Since inception in 1992, Discovery has been guided by a clear core purpose – to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives. This has manifested in its globally recognized Vitality Shared-Value insurance model, active in over 40 markets with over 40 million members. The model is exported and scaled through the Global Vitality Network, an alliance of some of the largest insurers across key markets including AIA (Asia), Ping An (China), Generali (Europe), Sumitomo (Japan), John Hancock (US), Manulife (Canada) and Vitality Life & Health (UK, wholly owned). Discovery trades on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange as DSY.

*1,000,000 people in the UK and South Africa between the years 2013-2023

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