Adding Daily Steps Linked to Longer Life

Heidi Splete

June 04, 2021

Taking more steps each day, in short spurts or longer bouts, was associated with a longer life in women older than 60 years, according to data from more than 16,000 participants in the ongoing Women's Health Study.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both as fitness guidelines for adults. Walking is a safe and easy way for many adults to follow these guidelines, according to Christopher C. Moore, MS, a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The popularity of step counts reflects that they are simple and objective, and "focusing on steps can help promote an active lifestyle," he said. Data on the impact of sporadic steps accumulated outside of longer bouts of activity on health outcomes are limited; however, technology advances in the form of fitness apps and wearable devices make it possible for researchers to track and measure the benefits of short periods of activity as well as longer periods.

In a study presented at the Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health meeting, sponsored by the AHA, Mr. Moore and colleagues assessed data from women older than 60 years who used wearable step-counting devices to measure their daily steps and walking patterns.

The study population included 16,732 women enrolled in the Women's Health Study, a longstanding study of heart disease, cancer, and disease prevention among women in the United States. The participants wore waist step counters 4-7 days a week during 2011-2015. The average of the women was 72 years; 96% were non-Hispanic White, and the average BMI was 26 kg/m2.

The researchers divided the total number of steps for each study participant into two groups: "bouted" steps, defined as 10 minutes or longer bouts of walking with few interruptions; and "sporadic" steps, defined as short spurts of walking during regular daily activities such as housework, taking the stairs, or walking to or from a car.

A total of 804 deaths occurred during an average of 6 years of follow-up. Each initial increase of 1,000 steps including sporadic or bouted steps was associated with a 28% decrease in death, compared with no daily steps (hazard ratio, 0.72).

Each increasing quartile of sporadic steps was linked with higher total steps per day, Mr. Moore said. "Initial increase in sporadic steps corresponded to the greatest reductions in mortality," with an HR of 0.69 per additional sporadic steps below 3,200 per day, and the impact on reduced mortality plateaued at about 4,500 sporadic steps per day.

In further analysis, the researchers also found a roughly 32% decrease in death in participants who took more than 2,000 steps daily in uninterrupted bouts (HR, 0.69).

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the relatively short follow-up period and number of events, the assessment of steps at a single time point, and the mostly homogeneous population, Mr. Moore noted. Additional research is needed to assess whether the results are generalizable to men, younger women, and diverse racial and ethnic groups.

However, the results may have implications for public health messaging, he emphasized. The message is that, to impact longevity, the total volume of steps is more important than the type of activity through which they are accumulated.

"You can accumulate your steps through longer bouts of purposeful activity or through everyday behaviors such as walking to your car, taking the stairs, and doing housework," Mr. Moore concluded.

Find a Friend, Both of You Benefit

On the basis of this study and other available evidence, more steps daily are recommended for everyone, Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist at New York University Langone Health, said in an interview.

"You can increase minutes of walking and frequency of walking," she said.

Dr. Goldberg emphasized that you don't need a fancy app or wearable device to up your steps. She offered some tips to help overcome barriers to putting one foot in front of the other. "Take the steps instead of the elevator. Park your car farther from your destination so you can walk." Also, you can help yourself and help a friend to better health. "Get a walking buddy so you can encourage each other to walk," Dr. Goldberg added.

Mr. Moore and Dr. Goldberg had no financial conflicts to disclose. The Women's Health Study is funded by Brigham and Women's Hospital; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the National Cancer Institute. Mr. Moore was funded by a grant from the NHLBI but had no other financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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