A popular fitness goal for the health conscious to remain fit, these days, is attempting to complete 10,000 steps every day. However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) has now found that older adults can keep their hearts healthy with just about half the work!
Only 6,000 steps can cut the risk of heart disease for older adults in half, says Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University. Her research team has found that adults over 60, who take between 6,000 and 9,000 steps each day, lowered their risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack by 40% to 50%. This is in comparison to older adults taking 2,000 steps per day.
“We found for adults over 60, there was a strikingly lower risk of a cardiovascular event or disease over an average follow-up of six years. When accumulating more steps per day, there was a progressively lower risk," said Prof Paluch, whose team's research was published this week in the journal Circulation.
Earlier this year, research by Prof Paluch and the Steps for Health Collaborative showed that more movement, even below the highly touted but unscientific ‘10,000 steps per day’, was associated with longevity benefits.
For this new study, the researchers reviewed 15 studies involving roughly 50,000 people on four different continents. All participants being considered took between 6,000 and 8,000 steps each day, revealing that 6,000 steps is the threshold for lowering the risk of death from all causes. Following these findings, Prof Paluch and team wanted to tackle the less-charted territory of steps per day and cardiovascular disease. The results were similar in terms of the most beneficial range of steps.
“The people who are the least active have the most gain. For those who are at 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, doing a little bit more can mean a lot for their heart health. If you’re at 6,000 steps, getting to 7,000 and then to 8,000 also is beneficial, it’s just a smaller, incremental improvement,” says Prof Paluch.
The second review looked at eight studies involving more than 20,000 people in 43 countries. The researchers did not find a link between steps and cardiovascular disease risk among young adults.
“This is because cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn’t come to fruition until we’re at older ages. You’re not going to see many people develop cardiovascular disease after six years of follow-up in young to middle adulthood,” explained Prof Paluch.
For the future, the research team is planning studies involving younger adults to further explore the link between steps per day and precursors of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity and type-2 diabetes. “These conditions develop in younger adults and are important for early prevention,” she explained.
Furthermore, out of the eight studies analysed, four included data about walking intensity or how fast the steps were taken. The research team found that there is no link between walking intensity and better heart health. “We’re interpreting these results with caution, but we did not find any striking association with walking intensity. There was no additional benefit with how fast you’re walking, beyond the total number of steps that you accumulated,” explained Prof Paluch.
Overall, the researchers believe that there is a continual additional benefit for those who walk more than 6,000 steps and, thus, Prof Paluch wants to spread an important public health message for the least-active older adults to take more steps each day. She is planning for further studies in this area to strengthen her findings.