Step Into Longer Life: New study reveals optimal daily step count for heart health

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steps-per-day(NaturalHealth365)  According to a recent study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people spend a shocking 82 percent of their leisure time in sedentary pursuits – gazing at television, watching videos, and scanning computer screens.  Many researchers believe that this lack of physical activity is closely linked to the soaring obesity rate in the United States – which has surged from 30 percent of the adult population to roughly 42 percent over the past two decades.

While holistic healthcare providers have long pointed to the importance of physical activity in preventing obesity and heart disease deaths, there have been conflicting recommendations over how much is needed to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death in general.  However, new research published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology claims to pinpoint the optimal amount of exercise – right down to a recommendation for daily steps.

Extensive meta-analysis reveals ideal steps per day for heart health

The just-published systematic review, which involved more than 110,000 participants in 12 different studies, was conducted at the University of Granada in collaboration with an international team of scientists.  According to the researchers, the “sweet spot” for steps per day – the amount that has been shown to reduce the risk of death from heart disease – clocks in at around 8,800.

Getting 8,800 steps per day was associated with a whopping 60 percent risk reduction in all-cause mortality.  For reducing the risk of heart disease, 7,200 steps per day was sufficient.  The study also revealed that brisk walking affords more benefits than slow strolling.  However, if you are not a naturally fast walker, or have been inactive for some time, no worries.  Slower walking yields benefits too.

Incidentally, 8,800 steps per day works out to an average of 6.4 kilometers (about 4 miles).

Even modest increases in steps per day can provide benefits

Encouragingly, even small increases in steps provide measurable payoffs.  For instance, the team noted that more modest amounts of steps per day, such as 2,800, yielded “significant” mortality benefits.  Even amounts as low as 2,517 steps per day were associated with a meaningful 8 percent reduction in all-cause mortality, along with an 11 percent reduction in heart disease risk.  For people currently at low levels of physical activity, increases as small as 500 additional steps (about five minutes of walking) were shown to increase health.

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The lead author of the study, Francisco B. Ortega, a professor at the University of Granada’s Department of Physical Education and Sports, declared, “We’ve shown for the first time that the more steps you take, the better.”  Did the research highlight any negative consequences of daily walking?  According to the team, it did not.  In fact, the review showed that no excessive number of steps has been proven to cause health problems.  However, Prof. Ortega advised 7,000 to 9,000 steps per day as “sensible” for most people.

“Just do it:”  A variety of physical activities can improve health and lengthen life

For such a routine, everyday activity, walking yields extraordinary benefits.  The simple act of regular walking increases the heart rate, improves circulation, helps to maintain a healthy weight, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves balance.  It also improves mental health and sleep quality by lowering levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and raising levels of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin.

While the new study emphasizes walking, it is not intended to make people overlook the benefits of other types of physical activity.  The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.  Examples of moderate activity include playing tennis or pickleball, mopping floors, and raking up leaves.  Cycling, dancing, swimming, and jogging can also constitute moderate exercise.

And, you don’t have to burn up the jogging track or run a marathon to improve your health and increase your odds of a longer life.  In a separate 2016 review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day of casual, leisure-time running – even at speeds slower than 6 miles an hour – markedly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and of death from all causes.

Seize opportunities to walk

If you have a sedentary job, you may have to think outside the box when it comes to getting your steps in.  Consider walking to and from work – or parking at an intermediate point and walking from there.  Other options include getting off the bus or subway a stop or two early, bypassing the elevator in favor of flights of stairs, and striding through airport terminals on flight layovers.

Cloudy skies, rain, and snow don’t have to throw a monkey wrench in your walking routine.  Local malls and indoor shopping centers offer an environment that is climate-controlled, well-lit, secure, and free of charge.  Enlist a “walking buddy” for conversation and company, or join a mallwalkers group.

Using an office, gym, or home treadmill can give you a chance to enjoy your favorite shows, podcasts, or music while exercising.  Even when confined to a desk, you can use an under-desk treadmill.

If you own a dog, you have a living, breathing, furry incentive to walk.  If you don’t have a dog, you can volunteer to walk shelter dogs – or even set up your own dog-walking business.

Set realistic goals, track your miles, and don’t forget to reward yourself when you hit your milestones.  Naturally, you should consult with your holistic physician or health coach before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have been inactive for some time.

When in doubt, remember the words of lead researcher Prof. Ortega.  “More steps,” said Ortega simply, “are never bad.”

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