Healthline, May 2021
New research has found that taking more steps each day could help you live longer. The findings, which were presented today at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference, found that people who took more steps each day had a significantly lower risk of death than those who were less active.
The health benefits were consistent among people who walked in uninterrupted sessions and those who walked in short spurts. Prior evidence has found walking to have a range of positive health effects, from cardiovascular improvements, better sleep quality, and improved mental health.
You don’t need to commit to lengthy strolls each day to improve your health. Squeezing in spurts of steps through everyday activities has the same health benefits. “Walking is the easiest and cheapest form of moderate exercise. Aside from supportive shoes, it doesn’t require any specific equipment, and because you don’t need to push yourself hard enough to sweat in order to reap the benefits, you don’t even need special clothes,” Dr. Elizabeth Gardner, a Yale Medicine sports medicine specialist and a team physician at Yale Athletics, told Healthline.
Walking appears to cut the risk of death The researchers evaluated 16,732 women ages 60 and older who wore a step counter on their waist between 2011 and 2015. Each participant’s steps were divided into two groups: longer walks lasting at least 10 minutes and short bursts of walking, such as going upstairs or walking to the car. The researchers followed up with the study participants for an average of 6 years, until 2019. They identified a 32 percent decrease in death among those who took at least 2,000 steps a day. Each increase of 1,000 steps a day was associated with a 28 percent decrease in death. The health benefits, which plateaued around 4,500 daily steps, were similar among people who walked in short bursts and those who took longer, uninterrupted walks.
How walking improves our health According to Dr. Jennifer Wong, a cardiologist and the medical director of noninvasive cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, regular physical activity has been linked to a decreased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure along with improved lipid profiles. Walking can also help reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Even a small increase in steps can have a profound impact on cardiovascular health.
In the short term, people who walk more have improved body composition and fitness. In the long term, more daily steps can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiac events, and death. Physical activity like walking can also boost muscle strength and help prevent falls and injuries. “Walking is also an excellent whole body exercise. It utilizes not only the muscles of the whole leg, but also the core and gluteus muscles for stability and propulsion,” Gardner said. Gardner said changing your pace during a walk can lead to more health benefits. For example, walking at a faster pace for 30-second intervals then slowing down for another 30 seconds can increase your heart rate, which can help burn more calories and boost cardiovascular health, Gardner said.
Evidence suggests that walking more each day can improve quality of sleep. Research has also consistently found that people who are physically active have better mental health than those who aren’t. Other studies have found that walking, even leisurely, reduces symptoms of depression and boosts positive emotions and feelings among older adults. “Walking can help improve the quality of one’s life, increasing energy levels, improving sleep quality, helping with mood, as well as slowing mental decline,” Wong said.
How to squeeze more steps into your day Fitting more bursts of walking into your day — which provide the same health benefits as longer walks, according to this study — may be easier for most people. Gardner said making small changes in your day is the best way to get in more steps. Wong recommends taking a walk during a lunch break, cleaning the house, or walking in place while watching TV. “People can get more steps in by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away and walking a longer distance to their final destination,” Wong said. These small changes can go a long way. “Not only do these small changes add up, because you don’t need to push yourself enough to sweat, you shouldn’t need to change clothing when you return to your normal daily activities,” Gardner said.
The bottom line New research has found that taking more steps each day could help you live longer. You don’t need to commit to lengthy strolls every day to improve your health. Squeezing in bursts of steps through everyday activities has the same health benefits, according to the study. More daily steps has been linked to a range of health benefits, like better heart health, improved sleep quality, and more positive mental health.