Medical Moment: Pace impacts health benefits during daily walks, study says

Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 5:37 PM EST
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(WNDU) - For those of us who made a resolution to get more exercise in the new year, getting 10,000 steps each day sounds like a good place to start.

Health experts say yes, but new research shows that it’s not only the quantity of the steps but the quality that matters.

10,000 steps is just around five miles. It’s a threshold that researchers say lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia.

Now, a new study shows those who move at a faster pace, about 80 to 100 steps a minute, have more health benefits. In two recent papers, the researchers followed 78,000 people in the UK and found brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 30 percent lower risk of dementia, and a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease or cancer, suggesting the pace may be the key.

“A slightly brisker peace, you know, maybe even to the point where, you know, you feel it, you’re breathing a little bit heavier, might be better for you,” said F. Perry Wilson, MD, a doctor at Yale School of Medicine.

“I don’t want people to be discouraged looking at 10,000 and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, if I can’t hit that, I shouldn’t even try!’ because, really, the data suggests that any movement, any getting up and moving around is gonna reduce your risk in the long-term,” Dr. Wilson explained.

“10,000 steps” has a nice, scientific ring to it. But that number was actually made up by a Japanese marketing campaign, so a team out of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, set out to fix that, finally conducting a study to determine how many steps you should really aim for.

The researchers determined, as expected: that getting more exercise is good. 6,000 steps beats 5,000, and 5,000 beats 4,000 for health outcomes. But they didn’t find anything particularly special about 10,000 steps (except going much beyond it brought no additional health benefits at all). Instead, 7,000 steps seemed to be an important inflection point. Taking that many steps reduced participants’ chances of premature death by 50 to 70 percent.

Dr. Wilson suggests people try to get their steps in clusters.

Instead of a slow walk around the office, throughout the day, build in time to take a 15 or even 30-minute walk to lunch. Dr. Wilson also recommends using social media to track your steps and those of your family and friends. Sometimes a little friendly competition can be an incentive. Also, Wilson says for those of us who want to know if there are additional benefits to going over the 10,000 step mark, there are no published studies yet because very few people go over that threshold on a regular basis.

Science says your heart and your head will thank you for it.