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Walk 10,000 steps? No, make that 2,000

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Walk 10,000 steps a day to live longer; no, make that just 2,000 steps.

In the same week, two separate studies have come up with wildly different step counts needed to live longer and reduce the risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease.

Researchers from the University of Sydney say that walking up to 10,000 steps a day reduces the risk of premature death by 39 percent and cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. 

They studied the activity levels and health of around 72,000 volunteers with an average age of 61 who wore a sports watch that counted their steps.

The average step count was 6,222 steps a day, and the most sedentary were walking just 2,200 steps a day, while the average time spent sitting or sleeping was around 10 hours a day.  Over the seven years of the study, 1,653 participants died and 6,190 developed cardiovascular disease (CVD).  

The researchers reckoned that the optimal number of steps to walk every day was between 9,000 and 10,000 to counter the 10 or so sedentary hours.  Although the 10,000-step level is the optimum, the researchers said they were seeing half the health benefits being achieved after walking just 4,000 steps.

But you don’t even have to walk that much to see big health benefits, says another study by a research team from the London School of Economics.  

They reckon that walking just 5,000 steps three times a week is enough to help us live longer and keep us out of hospital.  

The researchers trawled the database of health insurer Vitality, which had tracked the behaviour of around one million people in its health programme.

The over-65s especially benefited from walking a little further each day; those who walked 7,500 steps three times or more each week halved their risk of premature death; younger participants aged between 45 and 65 also saw a benefit, and their premature death risk fell by 38 percent.  Overall, walking 5,000 steps three times a week adds around 2.5 years to the life of a man and 3 years for a woman.

The 7,500 steps target seems to be the tipping point; beyond that and any health benefits were incremental.

It’s all about making small changes that can have a big difference, the researchers say.  People who walk 10,000 steps three times a week for three years reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 41 percent; increase that to four times a week and the risk reduces to 57 percent.

If you already have diabetes, walking 5,000 steps three times a week reduces the risk of a premature death by 40 percent.

British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2024; bjsports-2023-107221; Vitality, 12 March, 2024:
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