There’s an idea that because we may not be able to walk at a brisk pace, because of illness or a good many years on the clock, there’s almost no point in trying.
A large US study has shown this isn’t the case at all.
Plodding along and accumulating many steps taken can save your life.
In a large and persuasive study, investigators from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Aging, found that “the number of steps a person takes each day, but not the intensity of stepping, had a strong association with mortality”.
What this means: The more steps you take each day, even at a plodding pace, is linked to a reduction of the risk of all-cause mortality (or death from all causes).
So what is the optimal step count?
Common wisdom is that 10,000 steps a day keeps the doctors away.
An argument has raged about whether 10,000 steps is “enough” to significantly protect is from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
The magic number originated in Japan in the 1960s. A researcher there was disturbed to find that most people took less than 4000 steps a day.
He saw that increasing that number to 10,000 resulted in improved health. It was a number he plucked from the air, but it took off.
In recent years, in the US especially, there was some blowback, with some researchers suggesting that we didn’t need to do 10,000 steps.
This appears to be linked to the reality that too few people were trying for that number – which was seen as too difficult to attain. And so a kind of deal-making ensured.
The fact is, most people can accrue 10,000 steps in about two hours, which means two hours less sitting down.
Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) was engaged in a long-term study to investigate the reality of step counts.
“While we knew physical activity is good for you, we didn’t know how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference,” said Dr Pedro Saint-Maurice, of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, first author of the study.
“We wanted to investigate this question to provide new insights that could help people better understand the health implications of the step counts they get from fitness trackers and phone apps.”
The investigators tracked about 4800 participants, people aged over 40, who wore accelerometers for up to seven days between 2003 and 2006.
The participants were then followed for mortality through 2015 via the National Death Index.
The researchers calculated associations between mortality and step number and intensity after adjustment for demographic and behavioural risk factors, body mass index, and health status at the start of the study.
They found that, compared with taking 4000 steps per day, “a number considered to be low for adults: Taking 8000 steps per day was associated with a 51 per cent lower risk for all-cause mortality (or death from all causes).”
Taking 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65 per cent lower risk compared with taking 4000 steps.
The big surprise was that the researchers saw no association between step intensity and risk of death after accounting for the total number of steps taken per day.
They’re not suggesting that intense workouts have no benefits.
There’s a mountain of evidence that running, swimming, cycling and lifting weights are all beneficial.
Their good news was that by simply putting one foot in front of another, at a plod or a march – in other works to keep moving for more than two hours a day – is a literal lifesaver.
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