Busting the myths: How many steps you really need to take to lower death risk

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New research shows that older women can reduce their mortality risk by taking less than half of the recommended daily steps. Source: Getty

Physical activity and regular exercise are key to living a healthy and happy life, but it turns out older women may not need to push themselves as hard as originally thought.

While many activity trackers and wearable health devices claim 10,000 steps per day is key to better health and delaying death, new research shows that women getting less than half of the recommended steps daily are still reducing their mortality risk.

A study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal showed that while there’s plenty of evidence to support the role physical activity plays when it comes to health and longevity, few studies actually examine the number of steps each day associated with good health and the long-term outcomes. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital analysed older women as part of their Women’s Health Study and found those who took as little as 4,400 steps a day significantly lowered their risk of death.

For the study, women with an average age of 72 wore a device on their hips that measured steps for seven consecutive days during all waking hours.

The results showed 4,400 steps was better for lowering mortality than taking 2,700 steps and that the risk of death continued to decrease with the more steps taken. However, when older women reached around 7,500 – less than the 10,000 recommended by most smart watches and health apps – the risk of death levelled out.

“Taking 10,000 steps a day can sound daunting. But we find that even a modest increase in steps taken is tied to significantly lower mortality in older women,” study author I-Min Lee said in a statement. “Our study adds to a growing understanding of the importance of physical activity for health, clarifies the number of steps related to lower mortality and amplifies the message: Step more — even a little more is helpful.”

Previous studies show most people take between 4,000 and 5,000 steps a day, while the new research of 16,741 women found participants who walked an average of 2,700 were at greatest risk of death. Those who walked 4,400 steps per day were at 41 per cent lower risk of death.

The new research also supported previous studies which have found physical activity also causes short-term changes in health issues such as blood pressure, insulin levels and inflammation.

“Of course, no single study stands alone. But our work continues to make the case for the importance of physical activity,” Lee said. “Clearly, even a modest number of steps was related to lower mortality rate among these older women. We hope these findings provide encouragement for individuals for whom 10,000 steps a day may seem unattainable.”

How much exercise do you get each day? Do you use a smart watch or health apps to track your daily steps?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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