A new study found that walking an additional 500 steps, or about one-quarter of a mile, per day was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of heart disease, stroke or heart failure, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023. The meeting was held in Boston, MA from Feb. 28 to March 3, and offers the latest science on population-based health and wellness and implications for lifestyle and cardiometabolic health.
“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,” said Erin E. Dooley, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and lead researcher of the study. “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.”
Participants in the current analysis were part of a larger study group of 15,792 adults originally recruited for the ongoing Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. The present study evaluated health data collected from ARIC study visit 6 (2016-17) to evaluate the potential association between daily step counts and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Researchers analyzed health data for 452 participants who used an accelerometer device similar to a pedometer, worn at the hip, that measured their daily steps. Participants were an average age of 78 years old; 59 percent were women; and 20 percent of participants self-identified as Black adults (70 percent of whom were women, and 30 percent of whom were men).
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 CVD event, such as coronary heart disease, stroke or heart failure.
The analysis found:
- Compared to adults who took less than 2,000 steps per day, adults who took approximately 4,500 steps per day had a 77 percent lower observed risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
- Nearly 12 percent of older adults with less than 2,000 steps per day had 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 CVD.
“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,” Dr. Dooley said. “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.”
Additional 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.
Everyone can improve their cardiovascular health by following the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8: eating healthy food, being physically active, not smoking, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels. CVD claims more lives each year in the U.S. than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, according to the American Heart Association.
For more information, visit www.heart.org.