Physical activity is always good for your health and plain old walking remains to be one of the easiest ways to keep fit and now researchers have found that higher step counts are associated with a lower risk of early death.
The study, published in the Journal JAMA, found that the number of steps a person takes each day, and not the intensity of stepping, had a strong association with mortality. "While we knew physical activity is good for you, we didn't know how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference," said study first author Pedro Saint-Maurice from National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US.
"We wanted to investigate this question to provide new insights that could help people better understand the health implications of the step counts they get from fitness trackers and phone apps," Saint-Maurice added. Previous studies have been done on step counts and mortality. However, they were conducted primarily with older adults or among people with debilitating chronic conditions.
Study tracked a representative sample of US adults aged 40 and over
This study tracked a representative sample of US adults aged 40 and over; approximately 4,800 participants wore accelerometers for up to seven days between 2003 and 2006. The participants were then followed for mortality through 2015 via the National Death Index. The researchers calculated associations between mortality and step number and intensity after adjustment for demographic and behavioural risk factors, body mass index, and health status at the start of the study.
They found that, compared with taking 4,000 steps per day, a number considered to be low for adults, taking 8,000 steps per day was associated with a 51 per cent lower risk for all-cause mortality (or death from all causes). Taking 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65 per cent lower risk compared with taking 4,000 steps.
What did the study find?
In contrast, the researchers saw no association between step intensity and risk of death after accounting for the total number of steps taken per day. According to the researchers, in analyses by subgroups of participants, the study found that higher step counts were associated with lower all-cause death rates among both men and women; among both younger and older adults.
In secondary outcomes of the study, higher step counts were also associated with lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Being physically active has many benefits, including reducing a person's risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. And on a daily basis, it can help people feel better and sleep better, the researcher said.