Why you DON’T have to do 10,000 steps a day… so long as you walk quickly!

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The pace you walk at may be more important than your overall step count when it comes to warding off disease, research suggests. 

For years studies have shown 10,000 daily steps is the sweet spot for lowering the risk of an early death – no matter the speed they’re done at.

But experts in Denmark and Australia have found picking up the pace could reduce the risk even further, even if you do fewer steps.

In the largest research of its kind, researchers monitored 78,500 Britons over the age of 40 between 2013 and 2015 using wearable fitness trackers.

One study found 9,800 daily steps at a casual pace was optimal for lowering the risk of dementia, cutting it in half.

But doing just 6,300 at a fast speed made people 57 per cent less likely to develop the condition. For power walkers, the risk was up to 62 per cent lower.

In a second study, researchers found every 2,000 steps walked per day cut the risk of a premature death by around a tenth. 

But walking at a quicker pace was associated with an even greater protective effect.

The pace you walk at might be more important than the overall step count when it comes to warding off disease, research suggests (file image) 

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior author of the study and public health expert at the University of Sydney, said: ‘Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps.’

HOW MUCH EXERCISE YOU NEED, ACCORDING TO THE NHS 

To stay healthy, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

A good rule is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days every week.

All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

Source: NHS 

Dr Matthew Ahmadi, co-author and research at the university, added: ‘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.’

He added: ‘The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers makes it the most robust evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot for health benefits and walking faster is associated with additional benefits.’

Participants in the studies, who were aged 61 on average, wore a wrist accelerometer to measure physical activity over a period of seven days.

Their step counts were compared to medical records and death certificates seven years later.

Only those who were free of heart disease, cancer or dementia in the first two years of the study were included in the final analysis.

Researchers found that people who walked approximately 3,800 steps a day at any speed cut their chance of dementia by 25 per cent.

The researchers said this highlighted how even a little can go a long way when it comes to exercise. 

But the optimal number of steps per day, regardless of speed, was found to be 9,826, lowering the risk by 51 per cent.

People who walked with ‘purpose’ – at a pace over 40 steps a minute –  got a 57 per cent protective effect with just 6,315 steps a day.

The largest reduction in dementia risk (62 per cent)  was achieved by people who walked at a very brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for at least 30 minutes a day.

In the second study on the same participants, researchers found that every 2,000 daily steps cut the risk of an early death by between 8 and 11 per cent — up to 10,000 steps.

A similar association was seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer diagnoses. 

But a quicker pace was ‘consistently associated with lower risks across all outcomes, beyond the benefit of total daily steps’, the researchers said.

The magical 10,000 steps a day target is thought to have been invented by a 1954 Japanese marketing campaign to sell pedometers.

But over the decades research has come down in favour of that target, finding that between 7,000 and 10,000 a day is optimal.

Walking keeps people at a healthy weight and gets blood pumping through the arteries, triggering self-renewal processes that keep them plaque-free.

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