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More daily steps lead to longer life, even in short spurts

Walking is one of the simplest ways to improve fitness, maintain a healthy weight, and prevent the development of conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. In a new study from the American Heart Association, experts report that taking more steps per day – even in short spurts – can help you live longer. 

Study lead author Christopher C. Moore is a PhD student in Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Older adults face many barriers to participating in structured exercise programs, so some may find it more convenient and enjoyable to increase everyday walking behaviors, like parking slightly further from their destination or doing some extra housework or yardwork,” said Moore.

The researchers used a wearable activity tracker to compare the effects of occasional short spurts of steps, such as climbing the stairs and general daily activities throughout the day, to uninterrupted bouts of steps of 10 minutes or longer.

“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 Moore. “With the help of wearable devices, more research is indicating that any type of movement is better than remaining sedentary.”

From 2011 to 2015, 16,732 women participating in the Women’s Health Study 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, with an average age of 72.

The researchers analyzed the data, dividing the total number of steps for each woman into two groups: longer bouts and short spurts. The experts tracked deaths from all causes for an average of six years, through December 31, 2019.

Overall, there were 804 deaths during the entire study period. The study revealed that women who took more steps in short spurts lived longer, regardless of how many steps they had in longer, uninterrupted bouts.

Compared to taking no daily steps, each initial increase of 1,000 steps per day was associated with a 28 percent decrease in death during the follow-up period.

Among participants who took more than 2,000 steps daily in uninterrupted bouts, the researchers found a 32 percent decrease in death from all causes during the study period. 

A prior analysis of the same data concluded that women 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,” said Moore.

The research will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2021.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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