But where movement is concerned, something is still better than nothing. The researchers found that walking 5,000 steps per day (compared with fewer than 5,000) still helped, but not as much. “While the 6,000 number best discriminated between those who did and did not develop functional limitations, people who walked more than 5,000 steps had 50 percent less likelihood of developing functional limitations than people who walked less than 5,000,” says White.

The steps, White notes, weren’t necessarily taken all at once, but were accumulated throughout the day.

Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, professor of medicine and social medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s Thurston Arthritis Center in Chapel Hill, calls the study “well done.”

“The analysis of this data was quite appropriate, and I think it’s actually very interesting and just reinforces the message we want to get out to people to move, and move more,” she says. Callahan was the lead investigator in earlier research that evaluated the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease program.

Previous studies have shown the value of switching from being sedentary to lightly active, says Callahan. The current study is “in line with other findings that are coming out,” she notes. She adds that aiming for 6,000 steps is likely more doable for people with arthritis than 10,000 steps or regularly hitting the gym.

“People get a little nervous, like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get to 10,000 steps,’ and so they don’t even try. If you look at these goals, they’re more attainable for individuals with arthritis or who might be older and are just starting out being active. For some people 6,000 steps may still be a challenge, but it’s not 10,000 steps.”

Walking helps in ways beyond the physical and functional; it also provides a psychological benefit for people with OA, says White. “It keeps your confidence up that you can go out there and do it. It’s this realization that, ‘Wow, I can do this.’”

If you’ve been sedentary, don’t try overnight to go from zero to 6,000 steps per day, says Callahan. “Increasing incrementally is very important for the protection of your joints and your overall health.”

White suggests starting with 3,000 steps per day and working up to 6,000 steps. Put on a pedometer or activity monitor (like the Fitbit or Jawbone UP) every morning to count them.

“It’s really hard for people to adopt an exercise routine for the long term,” says White. “My hope is that by wearing a pedometer, you can adopt the most convenient changes to your lifestyle in order to keep up those 6,000 steps. And it gives you the flexibility to do it in whatever way works for you.”

“It’s a very simple message: Just go out there and walk. That’s the bottom line,” he says.