Step it Up: Every Little Bit Counts
New research reveals how low you can go on step count and still get some health benefits
I’ve got a very convenient and motivational health finding for you this week revealing a minimalist approach to better fitness, for all ages…
You might know that for those who are able, walking is among the simplest and most effective ways to boost health and happiness, no matter how old you are. I’ve written extensively about it for several years now, and the science is beyond question. But how much is enough?
New research suggests 4,500 steps per day might be a good goal to capture a lot of the good, but even 500 is better than nothing. Let’s walk through the study, then I’ll offer some perspective.
For the research, 452 people, average age 78, wore accelerometers for a few days to determine their walking habits, then their health outcomes were monitored for 3.5 years. (If you’re not 78, stay with me: I promise this is relevant to people at any age.)
Participants who managed just 500 steps a day—at a typical pace that’s about a quarter mile, or once around a stadium track—saw benefits to heart health, scientist report this week at a meeting of the American Heart Association. Every additional 500 steps was linked to a 14% reduced risk over time for heart disease, stroke or heart failure. Moreover, older adults who took approximately 4,500 steps per day had a 77% lower risk of a cardiovascular event compared to those who took less than 2,000 steps.
Studies like this don’t prove cause and effect, and I don’t want you to get the idea that putting in just 500 daily steps is ideal. But frankly, a lot of people—especially older individuals—don’t move even that much.
The bottom line: No matter how old you are, get going, and if you’re already moving, try to move more.
“While we do not want to diminish the importance of higher intensity physical activity, encouraging small increases in the number of daily steps also has significant cardiovascular benefits,” said study leader Erin Dooley, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. “If you are an older adult over the age of 70, start with trying to get 500 more steps per day.”
…and then 600, then 800, and so on.
Younger adults can see similar benefits from walking, other studies have shown. And your steps don’t have to come all at once. Incremental movement of any kind—walking, dancing, yoga, stretching, sports, whatever—at any time (and especially that which gets you breathing reasonably hard) all adds up to better health. As I’ve written before:
Exercise “snacks” throughout the day — as little as a few minutes of walking or more intense stair-climbing, for example — add up to better physical and mental health. Also, frequent “microbreaks” from concentration, of around 10 minutes, one recent study found, reduce fatigue, increase vigor and boost performance. Now new research has zeroed in more specifically on how long and how often walking breaks should be if you’re otherwise stuck sitting for long periods: 5 minutes of walking every 30 minutes is optimal.
It’s certainly beneficial to do more, and to do it more intensely. For example, walking faster for the same amount of time yields similar or greater health rewards. But in today’s harried world, it’s comforting to know that it’s not necessary to strive for 10,000 steps to get a good chunk of the health benefits of walking. We’re improving our health just about every time we put one foot in front of the other.
I going to head out and walk the dog now. Join me?
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Despite old medical advice that only the upper number for blood pressure mattered, the science is now clear that both numbers are important. The threshold for high blood pressure, which puts a person at higher risk for heart attacks, stroke and other bad endings, is 130/80, which is lower than the old, outdated 140/90. Learn more in my archived story>
Aging populations will force change. Some of our closest animal relatives offer a clue to an under-the-radar one. As rhesus macaques monkeys age, females “actively reduce the size of their social networks and prioritize existing connections,” a new study finds. But having fewer friends makes them poor influencers, less able to transmit knowledge beyond their immediate social circle. Yes, this is an odd finding for me to cite here, but it’s cool! The study >
BIT OF WISDOM
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ― Sophia Loren
Until next week, wishing you health and happiness.
Thank you for your support. If you find this paid newsletter useful, go ahead and forward it to someone who might benefit. You can find more of my health and wellness writing on Medium. Also find me on YouTube, Instagram, Mastodon, Twitter, Linkedin. And if you want to live a long, healthy, happy life, check out my book, Make Sleep Your Superpower.