Walking 9800 steps every day was linked to a 50% lower dementia risk.
The research tracked 78,500 participants using wearable trackers, making them the largest study to systematically track step count in connection to health outcomes. The studies were published in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology.
Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Southern Denmark discovered that walking 10,000 steps per day reduces the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and mortality. A power walk, however, demonstrated advantages above and beyond the number of steps completed.
“The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster,” said co-lead author Dr. Matthew Ahmadi, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center and Faculty of Medicine and Health.
‘For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3,800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25 percent,” said co-lead author Associate Professor Borja del Pozo Cruz from the University of Southern Denmark and senior researcher in health at the University of Cadiz.
- Every 2,000 steps lowered the risk of premature death incrementally by 8 to 11 percent, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day.
- Similar associations were seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer incidence.
- A higher number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of all-cause dementia
- 9,800 steps was the optimal dose linked to a lower risk of dementia by 50 percent, however, the risk was reduced by 25 percent at as low as 3,800 steps a day
- Stepping intensity or a faster pace showed beneficial associations for all outcomes (dementia, heart disease, cancer, and death) over and above total daily steps.
“Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps,” said senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity , Lifestyle and Population Health at the University of Sydney.
“Findings from these studies could inform the first formal step-based physical activity guidelines and help develop effective public health programs aimed at preventing chronic disease.”
How was the study conducted?
The research used UK Biobank data to connect step count data from 78,500 UK participants aged 40 to 79 years with health outcomes 7 years later. Over the course of seven days (minimum 3 days, including a weekend day and monitoring during sleep periods), participants wore wrist accelerometers to track their physical activity.
Through a number of data sources and registries, such as inpatient hospital records, primary care records, and cancer and death registries, this information was connected with the participants’ health records with ethical approval.
Only individuals who had no history of dementia, cancer, or cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the trial and had remained healthy for the first two years were evaluated at the end. Statistical adjustments were also applied to account for confounders such as the fact that those who walk more steps generally move quicker.
The researchers note that the studies are observational, meaning they cannot show direct cause and effect, however, note the strong and consistent associations seen across both studies at the population level.
“The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers make it the most robust evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot for health benefits and walking faster is associated with additional benefits,” said Dr. Matthew Ahmadi.
“Going forward more research with longer-term use of trackers will shed more light on the health benefits associated with certain levels and intensity of daily stepping.”
“Prospective Associations of Daily Step Counts and Intensity With Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality and All-Cause Mortality” by Borja del Pozo Cruz, Ph.D., Matthew N. Ahmadi, Ph.D., I-Min Lee, MBBS , ScD and Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., 12 September 2022, JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78,430 Adults Living in the UK” by Borja del Pozo Cruz, Ph.D., Matthew Ahmadi, Ph.D., Sharon L. Naismith, Ph.D. and Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., September 6, 2022, JAMA Neurology.