Upping your step count, even in small amounts, may increase life span

By Thor Christensen, American Heart Association News

Fly View Productions/E+ via Getty Images
(Fly View Productions/E+ via Getty Images)

Lea en español

Adding 1,000 or even 500 steps to your daily routine could lead to a longer life, new research suggests.

Experts have long endorsed walking as a free and easy way for people to get a wide variety of health benefits, including improved sleep, prevention of weight gain and reduced risks for serious conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

While fitness apps often recommend taking 10,000 steps a day, experts say there's no magic number for improving health. Still, a group of European researchers wanted to get a clearer idea of how many steps might help people live longer.

The research team analyzed 17 studies that gathered data on step counts, deaths from all causes and specifically from cardiovascular problems. The 226,899 adults in the studies were followed for an average of 7.1 years.

Each increase of 1,000 steps taken daily by the studies' participants was associated with a 22% lower chance of dying from all causes, the researchers calculated. Each 500-step increment was linked to a 7% drop in cardiovascular-related deaths.

When researchers looked at the median number of step counts, walking more – especially a lot more – seemed to have a greater connection to reduced death rates.

Compared with a group of people logging almost 4,000 steps daily, risk of death from any cause was reduced by:

– 49% for 5,500 steps;

– 55% for 7,400 steps; and

– 67% for 11,500 steps a day.

For deaths from cardiovascular causes, compared with about 2,350 steps a day, risk fell by:

– 16% for 4,000 steps;

– 49% for 6,700; and

– 67% for 10,400 steps a day.

The study will be presented Saturday at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions being held in Chicago and virtually. The findings are considered preliminary until the full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"The message is you don't need to walk a lot to get large benefits. Walking just 1,000 extra steps a day can be very important," said Dr. Maciej Banach, the study's lead author. "Obviously the more, the better."

The key is to do it regularly. Banach, a cardiologist, said he tells his sedentary patients to look for any opportunity to increase their steps. He tells them to leave the car at home and walk to nearby destinations whenever possible.

"It's so easy. But the important thing is you can't just do it for one week or one month. You should be trying to walk every day for the rest of your life," said Banach, head of the department of preventive cardiology and lipidology at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland.

Banach said the study was limited by the fact that it was based on observation, rather than testing a specific intervention, and could not prove cause and effect. The potential benefits of extra daily steps need to be studied in well-designed, randomized controlled trials of different populations, he said.

Amanda Paluch, who was not involved in the research, said the study provides quantitative evidence of the benefits of walking and reminds us that "any small improvement can be meaningful for your health, particularly if you are not active right now."

She urged medical professionals to try to motivate patients to be physically active.

"Patients value advice from physicians. Taking just a few seconds to encourage active lifestyles can be meaningful," said Paluch, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

While the study focused on life span and exercise, Paluch said people should think about walking as a way to lengthen their "health span."

"It's not just about quantity of years, but quality of years lived," she said. "Being active can prolong healthy years to play with the grandkids, check off more of those bucket list trips, and simply enjoy daily living without the burdens of disease."

Find more news from Scientific Sessions.

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association News story, please email [email protected].

American Heart Association News Stories

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Association’s official guidance, policies or positions.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt from or reprint these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.