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Step It Up & Live Longer

A Walk Does A Body Good

By John Salak –

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Always a good idea. An even better one may be to walk at least three miles a day in your own shoes, especially if a long healthy life is the goal. The University of Massachusetts Amherst thinks so anyway after crunching data from 15 different studies involving almost 50,000 people on four different continents. 

The UMass findings started off by tossing out the oft-repeated notion that 10,000 steps a day are the formula for longevity and good health. This idea is actually the unfounded marketing byproduct of a Japanese pedometer maker. University researchers, however, didn’t discount the benefits of daily steps. They simply lowered the numbers a bit.

 Adults 60 and older should aim for 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day. Anything more doesn’t really provide any additional benefit, UMass reported. Younger adults should stretch it out a bit, targeting 8,000-10,000 steps to help offset the risk of premature death and general health issues. 

In terms of mileage, there are about 2,000 steps in a mile, which means older adults should be hoofing a total of three to four miles a day, while younger adults may want to kick that up to five miles a day. “So, what we saw was this incremental reduction in risk as steps increase, until it levels off,” said Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist of the university. “And the leveling occurred at different step values for older versus younger adults.”

What about the speed of your walk? Don’t sweat it, Paluch added. The UMass research found no difference in benefit from walking faster. Distance and daily consistency are what mattered. This recent UMass research follows up a report from September 2021 by Paluch and her team that underscored the importance of walking for middle-aged people. The September study found that walking at least 7,000 steps a day definitely reduced the risk of premature death in middle-aged individuals.

Neither finding should come as a surprise as regular exercise has long been recognized as a formula for good health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, in fact, recommends that adults put in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.

The UMass research simply provides an evidence base for these recommendations as well as guidance for accessible physical activity, like walking. “Steps are very simple to track, and there is a rapid growth of fitness tracking devices,” Paluch explained. “It’s such a clear communication tool for public health messaging.”

The latest research focused on data collected from 15 studies on the effect of daily steps on all-cause mortality among adults at least 18 years old. It grouped the individuals into four sections based on their daily average steps: 3,500 steps, 5,800, 7,800 and 10,900. The three groups with more daily steps saw a 40 to 53 percent lower risk of death compared to the individuals who took the fewest steps.

“The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity,” Paluch noted. “More steps per day are better for your health. And the benefit in terms of mortality risk levels off around 6,000 to 8,000 for older adults and 8,000 to 10,000 for younger adults.”

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