People across the globe seeking better health judge their volume of daily exercise by whether they’ve reached a target of 10,000 steps.
But do you really need to reach that number to experience health benefits?
In a study published in “JAMA Internal Medicine,” a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, the National Institute on Aging, the University of Tokyo and other institutions examined the relationship between steps per day and mortality among thousands of older women.
Researchers found study participants didn’t need to reach the 10,000-step threshold to experience better outcomes, though their research reaffirmed a strong relationship between exercise and longer life.
“The study in question suggests that any activity, such as walking, reaps health benefits,” explains Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs for Tidelands Health and a family medicine physician who has been practicing for more than 30 years. “The 10,000-step standard may be artificially high if the target is improved health rather than the higher goal of conditioning and weight loss, which are both improved with more extensive exercise.”
For their work, the research team examined the exercise habits of nearly 17,000 women with an average age of 72 years. Researchers tracked how many steps the women took over a period of seven days, then examined their health outcomes four years later.
They found that women who averaged about 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates compared to those who took 2,700 steps per day. Health benefits continued to increase until 7,500 steps were reached, at which point mortality rates leveled off.
The study also found the intensity of steps taken did not impact mortality rates.
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That data is especially important for older adults to hear, says Dr. Harmon, because it drives home the point that they don’t necessarily need to be concerned with “high-intensity” workouts. Rather, they simply need to do make the effort to stay active–even if that just means walking.
“Easy walking is the best, most economical form of exercise,” says Dr. Harmon, who was not involved in the study. “The pace doesn’t have to be extreme, but 2 1/2 MPH is a good pace–a steady walk.”
Affirms previous research
Dr. Harmon notes the new study mirrors the finding of research published several years ago by a team from the National Institutes of Health that found life expectancy grew by four to seven minutes for every minute of exercise among adults up to the age of 75.
Meanwhile, yet another study published earlier this year in “JAMA Network Open” linked regular exercise and physical activity with a 40 percent decrease in death due to cardiovascular disease and a 15 percent decrease in cancer-related deaths.
The takeaway from all of these studies?
“The bottom line is to get up and walk and exercise,” Dr. Harmon says. “Ultimately, your effort can pay big dividends through better health.”
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Vice President of Medical Affairs and Family Medicine Physician
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.Learn More
Medical University of South Carolina
U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital
American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.