Count steps? Here’s how much you need to improve health


By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

(Health day)

MONDAY, Oct. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Taking those oft-cited 10,000 steps a day, or even a little less, may actually be enough to improve your health, a new study suggests.

The researchers found that among 6,000 middle-aged and older adults, those who took at least 8,000 to 9,000 steps daily had lower risks of developing a variety of conditions over seven years. The list included obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, acid reflux, and clinical depression.

That step count is equivalent to walking about four miles, depending on your pace.

However, experts not involved in the study cautioned against getting too caught up in a magical number of daily steps: If you can be more active, do so.

In fact, the study found that when it came to preventing obesity and other health conditions, the more steps, the better.

It’s a simple formula, said Dr. Chip Lavie, medical director of cardiac prevention and rehabilitation at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans.

If the goal is weight control, he said, the more you walk or run, the more calories you’ll burn.

“In general, we say that you burn 100 calories for every mile you walk or run,” said Lavie, who was not involved in the study.

Of course, he noted, if people substantially increase their activity levels, they may eat more. But the “net effect” of being very active will still translate to weight loss, Lavie said. And that, she added, can reduce the risks of heart disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses.

Lavie also pointed to a factor that may be just as important as step count: step speed, which is key to improving cardiovascular fitness.

“Exercise,” Lavie said, “is one of the strongest protectors against most diseases.”

All that said, the core message of the study is a good one, Lavie said: Get moving and you can reduce your risk of a number of chronic health conditions.

The study, published Oct. 11 in natural medicine, involved just over 6,000 adults ages 41 to 67 who used Fitbit devices to track their daily steps. Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, were allowed to access their electronic health records to see how their daily step count correlated with their risk of being diagnosed with various chronic diseases.

The participants’ activity levels were tracked for an average of four years. The group’s median daily steps were around 7,700 (about 3.5 miles), meaning half took more and half took less.

Over seven years, the study found, people who averaged at least 8,200 steps a day were less likely to develop obesity. They also had lower risks for two conditions often linked to obesity: sleep apnea, a nocturnal breathing disorder; and acid reflux disease. The odds of being diagnosed with major depression also decreased.

But more steps were even better.

People in the top 25% for step count, who typically approached 11,000 steps per day, were 30% to 50% less likely to develop those conditions, compared to people in the bottom 25 Bottom %, whose step count hovered around 6000.

The researchers pointed to a more specific example: If an overweight person were to increase their daily step count from 6,000 to 11,000, that could reduce the odds of becoming obese by 64%.

When it comes to diabetes and high blood pressure, the study found a “plateau” effect, in which the risks of those conditions were reduced when people took between 8,000 and 9,000 steps a day. But moving further offered no additional protection.

However, Lavie cautioned against reading too much into that finding. “To think that you get maximum benefit at 9,000 steps is pretty naive,” she said.

Dr. Andrew Freeman is director of cardiovascular wellness and prevention at National Jewish Health in Denver. He agreed that the study does not define a “magic number” of steps for the human body.

“Before cars, people easily walked 10 miles a day,” noted Freeman, who was not involved in the new research.

Beyond that, exercise is just one ingredient in staying physically and mentally healthy. A plant-rich diet, adequate sleep and social connection are also critical, Freeman said.

This study lacked information on those factors. It also had other limitations, Freeman and Lavie said: People who use a Fitbit are likely to be health-conscious and motivated, and have relatively higher incomes. Therefore, it is not clear how well these findings could be generalized.

Still, the core message, get moving, is strong, both doctors said.

Fitness trackers aren’t necessary, Freeman said, but if the devices keep you motivated, great. He recommended staying on track in some way, such as walking a certain distance or a certain amount of time each day, for the sake of consistency.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommendations about exercise.

SOURCES: Carl “Chip” Lavie, MD, medical director, cardiac prevention and rehabilitation, and director, exercise laboratories, John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, Ochsner Clinical School – The University of Queensland School of Medicine, New Orleans; Andrew Freeman, MD, director, cardiovascular wellness and prevention, and associate professor, National Jewish Health, Denver; natural medicine, October 11, 2022

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