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How many steps you should walk daily to live longer

How many steps you should walk daily to live longer

Walking at least 6,000-10,000 steps a day is linked with reducing mortality
People walking in a park
A walk in the park | iStock

Walking a minimum of 6,000-8,000 steps a day if you’re above the age of 60 and 8,000-10,000 steps if you’re younger or middle-aged could be the key to living longer, a large-scale study of the relationship between activity levels and longevity has found. 

While conventional wisdom has long suggested that an active lifestyle is necessary to lead a long and healthy life, the specific amount of exercise or activity required to be done hasn’t been pinned down, until now. 

A large-scale study that looked at data from over 47,000 people from across 40 countries showed a direct correlation between activity levels and longevity but found that the gains tapered off as individuals in the two age groups hit the requisite thresholds. 

Led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and funded by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the meta-analysis, which took into findings from 15 studies, found that the reduction in risk of mortality from activity was the same in males and females but differed only by age group. 

It also found no correlation between higher activity levels (and more vigorous physical activity) and increased risk of mortality, which some smaller studies had previously suggested. 

“There is a ceiling effect to how much we can improve our fitness level and doing much more additional activity will not result in much more improvements,” said Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the study. 

She added that the study found no indication that taking more steps than this may be harmful. 

The other interesting finding was that the intensity of stepping did not make much of a difference in reducing the risk of mortality. This means it doesn’t matter at what pace you walk, just putting in the requisite number of steps will give you all the benefits. 

“Our results showed that stepping intensity was not consistently associated with mortality, beyond the total number of steps taken. So according to our results, getting in your steps regardless of the pace at which you walked them was associated with a lower risk of death,” Paluch said. 

Moreover, the study suggests that people who engaged in physical activity more recently were the biggest gainers in reduction to risk of mortality, meaning it’s probably never too late to begin working out or being more active, nor can we rest on our laurels of having been active in the past to justify being sedentary now. 

Paluch said their study had been limited to only studying the benefits of activity on the risks of reducing mortality, but not individually studying the effects of improved activity on chronic diseases such as heart problems, diabetes, cancer, or mental health outcomes, which could be future areas of study she hopes her study will kick off. 

“There is an abundance of evidence that being physically active benefits our healthandis associated with the prevention of chronic diseases. The number of daily steps is a simple and feasible measure for monitoring and promoting physical activity, especially with the growing popularity of fitness trackers and mobile devices,” she added. 

The findings of the study are being heralded as an eye-opener for public-health experts and policymakers. They say that while more granular data collection needs to happen, especially of people from different regions and ethnicities, the study can serve as an easy-to-reference baseline for all. 

Sunil Karanth, MD and HOD of Critical Care Medicine at Manipal Hospitals, said the study cleared up some key questions on how a moderate amount of activity was completely safe and beneficial for most people, and that a higher amount of activity wasn’t detrimental to longevity, even though it might not have any benefits. 

However, he also said that given the genetic makeup of people in different regions, more localised research was needed to determine accurately the benefits of exercise on reducing the risk of mortality. 

“It’s true that genetically Indians are a different makeup and there’s now reasonably good data to show that we’re genetically more at risk of developing a cardiovascular event. So we can’t completely extrapolate what they have said [in this study]. But I think the short lesson that we can learn is that a moderate amount of exercise is definitely beneficial,” said Dr Karanth, who specialises in cardiovascular ailments. 

He said while there were no benefits to be gained by engaging in more intense physical activity such as strength training and high-intensity workouts, it would be advisable for people looking to start such activities to visit their general physician or a cardiovascular expert, especially if they were older. 

“It also depends on what age you start at. If you start jogging at the age of 55 or 60, then maybe it’s not okay for your heart and can cause damage to joints and bones. But if you’ve been jogging since you were 15 or 18, then you can continue that as it’s still a moderate amount of exercise for you,” Dr Karanth added. 

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