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Walking Just 4,000 Steps a Day Can Cut Risk of Dying From Any Cause, Analysis Finds

Walking just 4,000 steps a day may reduce your risk of dying from any cause, the largest analysis to date suggests – although the more you walk, the greater the health benefits.

The idea that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to poorer health is now well established, yet, until now, it has been unclear what the optimal number of steps people should aspire to is, or if there is an upper limit beyond which further health gains are minimal.

To investigate, researchers led by Maciej Banach, a professor of cardiology at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland, drew on data from 17 previous studies involving 226,889 people, who were followed for an average of seven years to assess the health impacts of different daily step counts.

The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, suggested that walking at least 3,967 steps a day started to reduce the risk of dying from any cause, while 2,337 steps a day reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.

Above these cutoffs, each increase of 1,000 steps a day was associated with a 15% reduction in the risk of dying from any cause, while an increase of 500 steps a day was associated with a 7% reduction in dying from cardiovascular disease.

“Our study confirms that the more you walk, the better. 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,’ Banach said.

“In addition, our analysis indicates that as little as 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce deaths from any cause, and even fewer to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.”

For younger age groups, the sharpest improvement in health was seen in individuals taking between 7,000 and 13,000 daily steps, while for those aged 60 years and over, it was between 6,000 and 10,000 steps.

The team also assessed the impact of walking up to 20,000 steps a day – equivalent to walking 9-10 miles for the average person – and found that the health benefits continued to increase.

“We did not see any diminishing effect or risk plateau for any of the investigated groups,” the team said. However, they cautioned that the data for such “high steppers” remains limited, and further studies were needed.

Banach said: “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, might be at least as – or even more – effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and prolonging lives.

“We still need good studies to investigate whether these benefits may exist for intensive types of exertion, such as marathon running and ironman challenges, and in different populations of different ages, and with different associated health problems. However, it seems that, as with pharmacological treatments, we should always think about personalising lifestyle changes.”

According to the World Health Organization, insufficient physical activity is now the fourth most frequent cause of death in the world, with 3.2m deaths a year attributed to it.

Before Covid-19 struck, the worldwide average daily number of steps was 5,324 – 5,444 in the UK – but the pandemic resulted in reduced levels of physical activity, and people’s daily step count still had not returned to baseline two years later.

Prof James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research shows us just how good walking is for our health. If you packaged the benefits as a pill, we would be hailing it as a wonder drug.

“Exercising or getting active can seem quite daunting if we haven’t done it for while or find it too difficult to fit into our busy lives. What’s great about walking is that it does not require special equipment or training, and you can do it almost anywhere.”

Source: The Guardian