By John Salak–
Remember the proverbial saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step? Well, so does a longer, healthier life, especially for those 60 years old and above.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst reported that older adults who walked between 6,000 and 9,000 steps a day reduced their risk of a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack, by 40 to 50 percent compared to those who walked only 2,000 steps a day.
There is no secret that sedentary behavior is a recipe for lousy health at any age. It can be a killer for those over 50. The University of Gothenburg, in fact, just reported that staying in one place too long is associated with poor physical fitness and large waste circumferences among those 50 to 64 years old.
Virtually any type of exercise can offset sedentary behavior, but walking is an easy, low-cost and effective way to rack up health benefits. The Mayor Clinic cites that a brisk daily walk can deliver a full menu of health benefits such as maintaining weight, losing body fat, improving muscle endurance, reducing stress and tension, strengthening immune systems and enhancing cardiovascular fitness.
Researchers at UMass Amherst, however, took their research deeper in exploring the health benefits of daily walking by defining just how many steps are needed for older adults, at least when it came to reducing the risk of cardiovascular health. The answer was 6,000 to 9,000 steps per day. It equals about three to four miles a day for the average person.
“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,” said study leader Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor at the university. “When accumulating more steps daily, there was a progressively lower risk.”
Paluch’s latest research comes on the heels of an earlier study she led that showed adults of any age increased their longevity and lowered their risk of death from all causes by simply walking 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day.
Older adults see benefits who are less active than some of their same-aged compatriots, she noted.
“The people who are the least active have the most to gain,” Paluch explained. “For those at 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, doing a little 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 UMass team concluded by reviewing data on more than 20,000 people from 43 countries, including the U.S. There was no link between steps per day and cardiovascular risk among younger adults.
“This is because cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn’t come to fruition until older ages,” Paluch said. “You’re not going to see many people develop cardiovascular disease after six years of follow-up in young to middle adulthood.”
The team offered one additional insight. The distance over intensity and speed is the key to securing benefits.
“We’re interpreting these results with caution, but we did not find any striking association with walking intensity,” Paluch explained. “There was no additional benefit with how fast you’re walking; beyond the total number of steps accumulated.”
The ultimate point is to step up and start walking.