Scientists have found the best evidence so far for the benefits of walking 10,000 steps every day.
A new study published in PLOS ONE journal on Wednesday was the first to prove a clear link between exercise measured by pedometers and reduced risk of death.
Participants who increased their daily steps from 1000 to 3000, five days a week, lowered their risk of death by 12 per cent. If increased to 10,000 every single day, death risk dropped by almost half (46 per cent).
“With this study, they’ve actually measured activity with pedometers rather than just asking people to complete a questionnaire,” said Dr Anne Tiedemann at The George Institute, where the study was conducted.
It was based on pedometer data collected on 3000 Tasmanians over 15 years.
“That’s why it’s quite different. It gives a better, a more accurate measure, of how active these people were,” Dr Tiedemann said.
The World Health Organisation, the US Heart Foundation and Australia’s National Heart Foundation have for some time recommended 10,000 steps for young to mid-aged adults, roughly the equivalent of eight kilometres per day. Another US-based study published in 2011 found the goal to be “a reasonable target for healthy adults”.
A public health expert said he was “delighted” there was now objective evidence for this widely-accepted goal.
“This confirms what we’ve known in over 60 years of epidemiological studies, almost all of which have used self-reports of physical activity,” Sydney University’s Professor Adrian Bauman told The New Daily.
Ten thousand steps was first chosen in the 1960s by Japanese makers of pedometers, without any evidence. It seems they lucked upon the right equation.
“There wasn’t any evidence behind that recommendation, but it seemed about right. I’m delighted that there is now evidence,” Professor Bauman said.
How to meet the goal
The George Institute’s Dr Tiedemann said the benefits of steps could be achieved without getting “really sweaty”.
“This is just steps, so it doesn’t have to be a structured exercise class that you go to and get really sweaty. It can be just moving more throughout your day – that has a health benefit.”
The health researcher recommended walking to the train station rather than driving, walking at lunchtime and taking the stairs instead of the elevator as easily achievable, step-boosting goals.
“It means just throughout the whole day trying to be as active as you can and not sitting for too long,” Dr Tiedemann said.
“Just little changes like that means you’re moving more and can build up those steps throughout the day.”
Do what you can
Dr Tiedemann said the main takeaway from the study was that any improvement in daily steps was beneficial.
“If we say everyone has to get 10,000 steps, a lot of people will just go, well, that’s definitely never going to be me so I won’t even bother trying. We want it to be an achievable target,” she said.
“The people that were sedentary and increased their steps to just 3000 per day, there was a reduction in death risk. So even making small changes to your habits does have a long-term benefit.”
Sadly, hardly anyone is meeting the ideal goal, if surveys can be believed.
In February, a study funded by CARE reported that the average Aussie walked the equivalent of 4000 steps per day. This accorded with other findings that our exercise levels are far below the ideal.
More encouraging news
While most of us exercise less and eat more junk than we should, we must be doing something right.
Australia ranked seventh among the world’s most developed nations for life expectancy in 2013, according to new statistics from the OECD released this week.
Aussies born in 2013 can expect to die at 84.3 years – an increase of 2.3 years compared to those born in 2000. Our expected lifespans were longer than New Zealand (83.2 years), the UK (82.9 years) and the USA (81.2). Japan ranked first at 86.6 years.
Average lifespan across all OECD nations reached 80.5 years in 2013, an increase of more than 10 years since 1970.
– with AAP