Walking is Good for You, Confirms Study

© Dan Bailey

The apocryphal goal of 10,000 steps a day turns out to be a 'sweet spot' for lowered risk of disease and death, according to research carried out at the University of Sydney and the University of Southern Denmark. But the speed you do it at is equally important.

Making strides in our understanding of walking and health...  © Dan Bailey
Making strides in our understanding of walking and health...
© Dan Bailey

Hillwalkers and runners are probably the last people who need to be convinced about the health benefits of getting out and about, but the size and scope of this study makes it particularly compelling, according to the team behind it.

Monitoring 78,500 UK adults with wearable trackers, this is the largest study to objectively track step count and pace in relation to health outcomes. It found that lowered risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death are associated with achieving 10,000 steps a day. However, a faster stepping pace like a power walk showed benefits above and beyond the number of steps achieved.

According to the findings, every 2000 steps lowered risk of premature death incrementally by 8 to 11 percent, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day. Similar associations were seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer incidence. A higher number of steps per day was also associated with a lower risk of dementia.

The greatest health benefits will be for those going from a sedentary lifestyle to one with regular walking, while beyond a certain point an increased step count brings diminishing returns.

Stepping intensity or a faster pace showed beneficial associations for all outcomes. 

"The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster," said co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health.

"Going forward more research with longer-term use of trackers will shed more light on the health benefits associated with certain levels and intensity of daily stepping."

The researchers note that the studies are observational, meaning they cannot show direct cause and effect; however they note the strong and consistent associations between more walking and better health outcomes. 

The latest findings cast doubt on our own research into the health disadvantages of hillwalking, published April 1st 2016:

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