By Tony Hicks
- Researchers say older adults who walk between 6,000 and 9,000 steps per day have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
- They added that daily walking did not reduce the risk of heart disease in younger adults.
- Experts say walking can boost overall physical health as well as mental health.
- They say playing golf as well as walking in the morning and evening are good ways to get in your daily steps.
Happy New Year. Go for a walk.
That’s the basic message from a new study that reports that older adults who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps a day have a 40% to 50% reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack or a stroke, compared to those who walk 2,000 steps per day.
The research comes from a team led by Amanda Paluch, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Paluch also leads an international consortium known as the Steps for Health Collaborative.
The study was published in the journal Circulation.
“We found for adults over 60, there was a strikingly lower risk of a cardiovascular event or disease over an average follow-up of six years,” Paluch said in a statement. “When accumulating more steps per day, there was a progressively lower risk.”
The cardiovascular benefits of movement
Paluch and the Steps for Health Collaborative’s research from 2022 revealed that even movement below the frequently cited but erroneous threshold of 10,000 steps per day was associated with longevity advantages.
In that meta-analysis, which combined information from 15 studies involving close to 50,000 participants across four continents, it was discovered that older adults who walked between 6,000 and 8,000 steps per day had a lower risk of dying from any cause.
Paluch and her team then made the decision to investigate the relationship between daily step count and cardiovascular disease. Eight studies with more than 20,000 participants from the US and 42 other nations were examined.
In terms of the most advantageous series of steps, they obtained similar results.
Walking and older adults
Paluch said the most important public health message from the study is to encourage the least-active older adults to take more steps.
“The people who are the least active have the most to gain,” Paluch said. “For those who are at 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, doing a little bit more can mean a lot for their heart health. If you’re at 6,000 steps, getting to 7,000 and then to 8,000 also is beneficial, it’s just a smaller, incremental improvement.”
The latest analysis found no link between steps per day and cardiovascular risk in younger adults.
“This is because cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn’t come to fruition until we’re at older ages,” said Paluch, whose work was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “You’re not going to see many people develop cardiovascular disease after six years of follow-up in young to middle adulthood.”
How many steps are enough?
The study is important, according to Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California.
The 10,000-step target, which he claimed originated from a marketing campaign in Japan, was not supported by research, he claimed.
According to him, the benefits become less noticeable after 8,000 steps. “The greatest incremental benefit appears to be until 8,000 steps,” he said. “There was an apparent small benefit to walking about 8,000 steps per day in adults under 60 years old. The advantage, though, was minimal.
In light of this, Ni continued, “other exercise parameters such as exercise frequency and intensity may be more relevant in younger adults.” “Steps may be a useful way to increase exercise, with an 8,000-step target rather than a 10,000-step target. Even if 8,000 steps are not feasible, any number of steps above 3,000 is typically regarded as advantageous because more steps are generally better.
Some ways to get your daily steps
Erin Blakely is a licensed nursing home administrator specializing in gerontology. She’s also the founder of Senior Golf Source, a resource site for older people to stay fit through golf.
She told Healthline golf is a great way for seniors to get their steps in without thinking too much.
“As we age, our bodies tend to slow down and become less active,” Blakely said. “This leads to fragility and an increased risk of health-related issues. I would notice those that stayed active (i.e., walking) having much greater success for longevity.”
Blakely told Healthline one round of golf equals about 12,000 steps – about 2,500 if using a golf cart.
“For seniors looking for an enjoyable way to stay active while getting outside and socializing with peers, golfing is a great way to get in your steps,” Blakely said. “Not only does it provide gentle physical activity, but it also has many other benefits, such as increasing flexibility and balance while reducing stress levels from simply being out in nature.”
Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City, told Healthline whatever the method, it’s the walking that counts.
“There are emotional and physical benefits of walking,” Romanoff said. “Specifically, when you wake up in the morning and start your day with a walk around the block – it will recalibrate your mind and prepare you for the day ahead. It’s a tangible reminder of the beauty, expansiveness, and people we live among and often breaks us out of a fixed mindset.”
Romanoff suggested walking as a healthy way to both start and end one’s day.
“This is one of the best habits to combat mental health struggles such as chronic anxiety and depression,” Romanoff said. “Similarly, walks at the end of the day help you unwind from the stress of the day and assist with the transition to sleep. Walking is ultimately a great reset button for the mind and body.”