Older people who take fewer than 2,000 steps a day are three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared with those who take 4,500 steps a day, new research suggests.
The study of people aged 70 or older also indicates that walking an additional 500 steps per day, or an additional quarter mile of walking, was associated with a 14% lower risk of heart disease, stroke or heart failure.
Around 3.5% of people who took some 4,500 steps daily had a heart attack or stroke, compared with 11.5% of those who took fewer than 2,000 steps per day, over the three-and-a-half-year study follow-up period.
Erin Dooley, is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, America.
She said: “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.”
The lead researcher of the study added: “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.
“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.”
People involved in the research were part of a larger study group of 15,792 adults originally recruited for a larger ongoing study.
The present study analysed health data for 452 people, with an average age of 78, who used an accelerometer device similar to a pedometer, worn at the hip, that measured their daily steps.
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 three-and-a-half-year follow-up period, 7.5% of those involved experienced a condition such as coronary heart disease, stroke or heart failure.
Researchers found that compared with adults who took fewer than 2,000 steps per day, adults who took approximately 4,500 steps per day had a 77% lower risk of a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke.
Meanwhile, every additional 500 steps taken per day was incrementally associated with a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
More research is needed 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.
Additionally, accelerometers are limited in picking up other activities that may be good for the heart, such as swimming and cycling.
The preliminary research is presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that daily physical activity is essential to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
“However, elderly people may find it difficult to achieve high levels of such activity.
“The findings in this study suggest that even a small increase in daily steps can make a big difference in cardiovascular disease in the elderly.
“Although the findings are correlative, and one cannot be certain that it is the higher number of daily steps that actually caused the reduced risk that was seen, they do suggest that remaining active as one gets older may bring substantial benefit.”
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