- For older people, every additional 500 steps walked during a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%, according to a new study.
- The health benefits from walking begin at about 3,000 daily steps, the researchers found.
- Five hundred steps is roughly equal to a quarter of a mile.
Plenty of studies associate physical activity, including brisk walking, with good health. With much of them focused on young-to-middle aged adults, there have been fewer investigations into the benefits of walking for older people.
New research, however, explores the ways in which walking can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Researchers recently found that for people aged 70 and older, each additional 500 steps of daily brisk walking lowered the risk of CVD by 14%.
In addition, individuals who walked roughly 4,500 steps each day lowered their risk of CVD by 77%.
The research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.
More steps decrease risk
The research involved 452 participants from the ongoing
Researchers tracked participants’ daily step counts using an accelerometer worn at the hip, and their cardiovascular health was tracked for a period of 3.5 years.
During that period, almost 12% of participants who walked fewer than 2,000 steps a day experienced a cardiovascular event. Just 3.5% of those who walked around 4,500 daily steps had one.
Cardiac events include
Similarly, in another recently published study, researchers found that 11 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a day (or about 75 minutes a week)—such as brisk walking, hiking, or dancing—may be able to lower the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
Why walking is so helpful
While higher-intensity physical activity also offers health benefits, for older people, brisk walking may be a more practical option.
“Walking is a great way to get physical activity. Not only is it a low-impact, weight bearing exercise which is important for bone health in older adults, walking is associated with reducing risk factors for CVD by helping to control blood pressure and blood sugars, decrease weight, and help reduce stress.”
— Dr. Erin E. Dooley of the University of Alabama, lead researcher
Meanwhile, Dr. Amanda Paluch of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the research, touched on walking’s benefits on cardiovascular health.
“Walking provides a great physiological stimulus to improve the strength and quality of the heart muscle and vessels in older adults,” she said.
Walking reduces both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure, so “it lowers the stress and strain on the heart muscle to pump blood throughout the body,” explained further Skidmore College’s Dr. Paul Arciero, who was also not involved in the research.
Dr. Arciero told Medical News Today that this reduction in blood pressure also makes strokes less likely since it reduces the force of blood traveling through the brain.
“Research from our lab strongly supports adding cardio exercise, such as walking, to the daily routine, performed in the morning for women and in the evening for men, to significantly reduce blood pressure and boost mood,” he said.
Keeping track of daily steps
Participants’ steps were tracked by device, but there are other ways to count the distance walked if a person does not want to wear a step-tracker.
Epidemiologist Dr. I-Min Lee of Harvard University, a co-author of the research, said that any way one prefers to track the distance that they walk is fine.
“Step tracker or not? This depends on the individual. It is not much use going with a ‘system’ that one does not like,” he said.
Dr. Arciero recommended walking between 4,000 and 7,000 steps per day each weekday, rising to 10,000 steps, if possible, on weekends.
150 minutes per week
“One easy way to accomplish this is to break your walks into smaller chunks of 10–15 minutes [t]hroughout the day. Additionally, perform your walk outside in nature, referred to as a ‘forest bath’ for an added boost to your emotional/psychological health,” said Dr. Arciero.
When measuring walking by the distance traveled, one quarter mile roughly equals about 500 steps.
“Going to a community track or map out a ¼ to ½ mile loop can be a great option as well,” Dr. Paluch said.
“I always encourage older adults to use some form of a reminder or motivation to help nudge them to get out and walk, whether it’s simply using the health app on a phone, an accelerometer they attach to their waist or wrist, or a walking buddy,” Dr. Arciero added.
Many phones nowadays come with apps that can track steps.
Can an older person walk too much?
Dr. Dooley reported that this research concluded that health benefits begin at around 3,000 brisk steps per day.
The U.K.’s National Institutes of Health provides a simple way to confirm that walking is adequately brisk: “You can tell you’re walking briskly if you can still talk but cannot sing the words to a song.”
A limitation of the research, noted Dr. Dooley, was that there is no way to know if walking improved participants’ health or if poor health reduced the distance they could walk. However, other research supports the benefits of walking.
Dr. Lee said that other studies have found that there is no risk of mortality in walking up to 10 times the recommend amount.
“Of course, one should not ‘over-do’ steps. By this, I mean make sudden large increases beyond what one is used to. If increasing, do so gradually,” he said.
“A good rule of thumb is don’t increase [one’s walking] by more than 10% a week. Too-large increases can lead to musculoskeletal injuries.”
— Dr. I-Min Lee
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