Walking fewer than 3,000 steps a day still benefits your health

Even modest increases in step counts can lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, new study finds

People walking on the treadmill in gym (iStockphoto.com)
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Walking a little more than 2,000 steps a day can still be beneficial to your health, researchers have found, in news which may hearten couch potatoes or those chained to their work desks.

Previous guidelines have commonly encouraged individuals to aim for 10,000 steps a day to maintain good health.

Now, a study has shown that walking an average of 2,337 steps a day can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases while walking an average 3,967 steps a day begins to reduce the risk of dying from any cause.

Professor Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, and a researcher on the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, said the benefits increase the further you walk, emphasising that “the more you walk, the better.”

“Our analysis indicates that as little as 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce deaths from any cause, and even fewer to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease,” Prof Banach said.

More steps, more life

According to the study's findings, every extra 1,000 steps a day was associated with a 15 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from any cause, and an extra 500 steps a day was linked to a 7 per cent reduction in dying from cardiovascular disease - those affecting the heart and blood vessels.

Professor Banach told The National: "The study's participants were separated into four distinct groups, known as 'quartiles.'

"We used the group with the fewest average number of steps (3,967 for analysis concerning mortality from all causes) as the baseline or reference quartile. This allowed us to compare and assess any health advantages observed in the other three groups, who walked greater distances."

Physical inactivity is now considered the fourth leading cause of death, with over 3.2 million deaths a year globally.

These findings come as a timely reminder that even moderate increases in daily step count can lead to substantial health benefits.

Prof Banach said: "Taking into account the different forms of measuring steps in the last several years (pedometers, accelerometers, smart watches), [walking] is probably the most common form of measuring the regularity and intensity of the physical activity."

No age limit for benefits

The study also discovered that these benefits are not limited by age, with a 42 per cent reduction in risk seen in those aged 60 years or older who walked between 6,000 and 10,000 steps a day.

Prof Banach said that benefits were similiar for men and women, irrespective of where they lived.

The “the more you walk, the better” principle applied to both young and older adults. However in people aged 60 years or older, the reduction in the risk of death was smaller than in younger people.

This, said Prof Banach, showed that "it is important, if possible, to start early with regular exercises".

Dr Ibadete Bytyci, senior author of the paper said that until now, the optimal number of steps for health benefits has been unclear.

“It's the first analysis that not only looked at age and sex but also regional differences based on the weather zones, and for the first time, it assesses the effect of up to 20,000 steps/day on outcomes,” Dr Bytyci said.

Prof Bananch explained: "The more steps you walk, the better the effects on your health, and every increase of steps by 500-1000 steps/day may be associated with significant mortality reductions."

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study was that researchers found no upper limit to the health benefits of walking.

Those walking as many as 20,000 steps a day continued to see increased health benefits.

Questions remain about the effect of extremely intensive physical activity, such as more than 20-25,000 steps a day or ultra-endurance exercises.

Prof Bananch noted: "We have had more and more data suggesting that extremely high-intensity exercises, e.g., iron-man, 12- or 24-hour runs, might not be associated with the expected health benefits, but even with a harmful effect.

'We have just designed a new prospective study to answer this question."

Updated: April 08, 2024, 8:52 AM