If you didn’t know it yet, walking has tonnes of health benefits—including long life. According to preliminary research, taking more steps every day, either all at once or in shorter spurts, may help you live longer.
The findings of the research were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2021.
Walking is one of the safest and easiest ways to improve fitness and health including heart health. The American Heart Association’s fitness guidelines for adults recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both.
Popular fitness apps and step counters make it easy to count steps, so researchers used a wearable step counting device to compare the effects of uninterrupted bouts of steps (10 minutes or longer) to occasional short spurts, such as climbing the stairs and general daily activities throughout the day.
“Technological advances made in recent decades have allowed researchers to measure short spurts of activity. Whereas, in the past we were limited to only measuring activities people could recall on a questionnaire,” said lead study author Christopher C. Moore, M.S., a PhD student in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “With the help of wearable devices, more research is indicating that any type of movement is better than remaining sedentary.”
From 2011-2015, 16,732 women wore a waist step counter that measured their daily steps and walking patterns for four to seven days. The women were all over age 60 (average age of 72; mostly non-Hispanic white women) and were participants in the Women’s Health Study, a large, national study of heart disease, cancer and other long-term disease prevention.
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The researchers divided the total number of steps for each study participant into two groups: 1) 10 minutes or longer bouts of walking with few interruptions; and 2) short spurts of walking during regular daily activities such as housework, taking the stairs, or walking to or from a car. In follow-up, they tracked deaths from any cause for an average of six years, through December 31, 2019.
A prior analysis of the same women reported that those who took 4,500 steps per day had a significantly lower risk of death compared to the least active women. “Our current results indicate that this finding holds even for women who did not engage in any uninterrupted bouts of walking. Taking 2,000 or more additional steps during bouts was associated with further benefits for longevity,” Moore said.
“Older adults face many barriers to participating in structured exercise programs, so some may find it more convenient and enjoyable to increase everyday walking behaviours, like parking slightly further from their destination or doing some extra housework or yard work,” Moore said.