Woman in sneakers walking

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DALLAS — People over 70 who take an extra 500 steps a day lower their risk of heart failure or stroke by 14 percent, according to a new study. Researchers say that, for senior citizens, every 500 additional daily steps reduce the risk of heart trouble. That’s around a quarter-mile of walking each day.

Compared to those who took less than 2,000 steps per day, adults who took around 4,500 steps per day had a 77-percent lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Only about 3.5 percent of the participants who took around 4,500 steps per day suffered a cardiovascular event, compared to 11.5 percent of those who took less than 2,000 steps per day. Researchers followed this group for three and a half years.

Steps are an easy way to measure physical activity, and more daily steps were associated with a lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease-related event in older adults,” says lead researcher Erin Dooley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, in a media release.

“However, most studies have focused on early-to-midlife adults with daily goals of 10,000 or more steps, which may not be attainable for older individuals.”

The participants were part of a larger study group of more than 15,700 adults originally recruited for the ongoing Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Researchers evaluated health data for any potential association between daily step counts and cardiovascular disease.

They also analyzed information from 452 participants with an average age of 78 who used an accelerometer device similar to a pedometer, worn at the hip, that measured their daily steps.

Couple walking dog outside
Couple walking with a dog on an outside track (copyright American Heart Association)

‘Small increases’ can have ‘significant benefits’

Dr. Dooley explains that the devices were worn for three or more days, for 10 or more hours, and the average step count was about 3,500 steps per day. Over the 3.5-year follow-up period, 7.5 percent of the participants experienced a cardiovascular disease event, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, or heart failure.

The analysis found that, compared to adults who took less than 2,000 steps per day, those who took around 4,500 steps each day had a 77-percent lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event. Nearly 12 percent of older adults with less than 2,000 steps per day suffered a cardiovascular event, compared to 3.5 percent of the participants who walked about 4,500 steps per day. Every additional 500 steps taken per day was incrementally associated with a 14-percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

“It’s important to maintain physical activity as we age, however, daily step goals should also be attainable. We were surprised to find that every additional quarter of a mile, or 500 steps, of walking had such a strong benefit to heart health,” Dooley continues.

“While we do not want to diminish the importance of higher intensity physical activity, encouraging small increases in the number of daily steps also has significant cardiovascular benefits. If you are an older adult over the age of 70, start with trying to get 500 more steps per day.”

Dr. Dooley says further research is necessary to determine if meeting a higher daily count of steps prevents or delays cardiovascular disease, or if lower step counts may be an indicator of underlying disease.

The team presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report. 

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1 Comment

  1. Dorothy Kahn says:

    The 10,000 step meme originated as a promotion by a Japanese company that manufactured pedometers,