In an era where technology often confines us to sedentary habits, walking remains a readily available and simple form of exercise. A new study suggests that the more we walk, the more we stand to gain in terms of health benefits.
The relationship between the number of steps taken and the reduction in mortality risk has been a topic of many discussions. The current study, which is the world’s most extensive research on the subject, reveals encouraging new insights.
The analysis combined the results of 17 different studies across the globe, including data from 226,889 individuals. The results were published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The findings challenge the prevalent belief surrounding the optimal daily step count. It appears the magic number is not 10,000 or even 5,000 steps.
Instead, the researchers found that walking merely 3,967 steps a day cuts down the risk of dying from any cause. Furthermore, just 2,337 steps daily were found to lessen the risk from cardiovascular diseases. However, it’s not just about meeting the bare minimum.
“Our study confirms that the more you walk, the better,” explained Professor Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz, who led the study.
Notably, every increase of 1,000 steps per day was linked with a 15% lower risk of mortality from any cause, while an additional 500 steps saw a 7% decrease in cardiovascular deaths.
The study highlights the universal benefits of walking regardless of age, gender, or region of residence.
“We found that this applied to both men and women, irrespective of age, and irrespective of whether you live in a temperate, subtropical or subpolar region of the world, or a region with a mixture of climates,” noted Professor Banach.
The research comes at a critical time when sedentary lifestyles, alarmingly prevalent across the globe, have been linked to escalating cardiovascular diseases and reduced life expectancy.
Over 25% of the global population is reportedly not engaging in enough physical activity, a concern exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further reduced mobility.
Study senior author Dr. Ibadete Bytyçi from the University Clinical Centre of Kosovo shed light on the knowledge gaps that previously existed.
“Until now, it’s not been clear what is the optimal number of steps, both in terms of the cut-off points over which we can start to see health benefits, and the upper limit, if any, and the role this plays in people’s health,” said Dr. Bytyçi.
The researchers also factored in the age differences in the step count benefits, finding varied risk reduction percentages between older and younger adults.
Professor Banach emphasized the paramount significance of lifestyle changes. “In a world where we have more and more advanced drugs to target specific conditions such as cardiovascular disease, I believe we should always emphasise that lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which was a main hero of our analysis, might be at least as, or even more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and prolonging lives.”
Despite the enormous scale of the study, the observational research cannot firmly establish causality between increased step counts and reduced death risks.
In addition, while the participants were generally healthy at the outset, the study could not account for racial and socioeconomic disparities or varied step counting methods.
Walking, a fundamental and often overlooked form of exercise, has proven to have substantial health benefits. Here’s a more in-depth look at the ways in which walking can improve well-being:
As highlighted in the recent global study, walking significantly reduces the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. Regular walking helps to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and enhance blood circulation, thereby boosting heart health.
Walking burns calories, aiding in weight control. A brisk walk for 30 minutes can burn around 150-200 calories. It helps in the maintenance of a healthy weight, reducing the risk of obesity-related health issues.
Walking isn’t just good for the body; it’s beneficial for the mind as well. It has been found to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve mood. Nature walks, in particular, can be incredibly calming and rejuvenating.
Regular walking builds muscular strength and endurance, especially in the lower body. It also strengthens bones, increasing bone density, which is particularly vital as we age.
In addition to cardiovascular diseases, walking can also help in preventing other chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes. It aids in regulating blood sugar levels, thereby keeping diabetes at bay.
Walking requires coordination and engages various muscle groups, thereby improving overall balance and flexibility.
Walking in groups or with friends fosters social connections and community engagement. This social aspect can provide an additional mental health boost.