6,000 steps a day can lower risk of heart disease, death for older adults

AMHERST, Mass. – Although 10,000 steps a day is popular goal for many people looking to stay healthy, a new study finds older adults can keep their hearts healthy with half the work! Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst say it just takes 6,000 steps to cut the risk of heart disease in half.

Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology, and her team found that adults over 60 who take between 6,000 and 9,000 steps each day lowered their risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack by 40 to 50 percent. This is in comparison to older adults taking just 2,000 step per day.

For context, researchers from the Mayo Clinic estimate that the average person takes about 3,000 steps each day.

“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,” says Paluch in a university release. “When accumulating more steps per day, there was a progressively lower risk.”

Whether you’re just taking the average number of steps or striving to do more, the results show that the unscientific “10,000 steps per day” goal is not a necessity to improve your health. Researchers reviewed 15 studies involving roughly 50,000 people on four different continents during this project. All of these participants took between 6,000 and 8,000 steps each day, revealing that 6,000 steps is the threshold for lowering the risk of death from all causes.

More steps linked to better heart health

In a second review, the team examined the link between steps and cardiovascular disease. The results were similar to the beneficial link between steps and premature death. Although taking more than 6,000 steps led to even better health for older adults, Paluch says setting the bar at 6,000 can encourage less-active seniors to take more steps each day.

“The people who are the least active have the most to gain,” the researcher says. “For those who are at 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, doing a little bit 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.”

This second review looked at eight studies involving more than 20,000 people in 43 countries. Study authors did not find a link between steps and heart disease risk among young adults.

“This is because cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn’t come to fruition until we’re at older ages,” says Paluch. “You’re not going to see many people develop cardiovascular disease after six years of follow-up in young to middle adulthood.”

The team notes that future studies involving younger adults should focus on the early warning signs for heart disease, like high blood pressure, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.

“Those conditions develop in younger adults and are important for early prevention,” Paluch explains.

Exercise at your own pace

Importantly, the new study did not find a link between walking intensity and better heart health. Simply put, walking faster or slower won’t impact the benefit of simply taking more steps each day.

“We’re interpreting these results with caution, but we did not find any striking association with walking intensity,” Paluch concludes. “There was no additional benefit with how fast you’re walking, beyond the total number of steps that you accumulated.”

The study is published in the journal Circulation.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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