Walking an extra 1,000 steps a day may increase your lifespan, study says

A young woman with blonde hair laughs and walks near a lake with her grandmother
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New research shared by the American Heart Association has found that taking more steps each day, either in short spurts or all at once, could help you live longer. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, looked at the walking habits of 16,732 women aged over 60 who participated in the Women’s Health Study. 

Researchers found that participants who took more steps each day had a significantly lower risk of death than those who were less active. That sounds obvious enough, but the researchers also discovered that the health benefits of walking were as consistent among participants who opted for shorter spurts of walking as they were among those who walked for long, uninterrupted sessions. 

Participants’ steps were divided into two groups: 1) longer walks lasting over 10 minutes with few interruptions, and 2) short bursts of walking during daily activities, such as housework. 

Volunteers wore step counters, a basic version of a fitness tracker, and reported their walking patterns for four to seven days. While the study took place from 2011 to 2015, with researchers tracking deaths from any cause for an average of six years through 2019, the preliminary research was only published this month.

Researchers found:

  • Compared to no daily steps, each initial increase of 1,000 steps a day was associated with a 28% decrease in death during the follow-up period.
  • A 32% decrease in death among people who walked at least 2,000 steps a day in uninterrupted bouts.
  • The benefits plateaued at around 4,500 steps per day when taken in short spurts of walking.

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Short bursts of walking each day are just as effective as longer walks

According to researchers, splitting up your steps throughout the day is just as beneficial to your health as achieving them in one big walk. In fact, moving a little each hour is a proven way to remedy the negative effects of sitting for too long. Not to mention, shorter bursts of walking is easier for people who have low fitness or who have extra mobility needs. 

The American Heart Association fitness guidelines for adults recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week. The best change you can make is to add more steps every day, especially if you don’t move much at the moment. 

For example, you could opt for a lunchtime walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or get your steps up while watching TV. The best treadmills for walking are your friend here, and you don’t need to spend much money on one if you’re only using it for walking.

“Technological advances made in recent decades have allowed researchers to measure short spurts of activity.” Said lead study author Christopher C. Moore, MS, a doctoral student of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“With the help of wearable devices, more research is indicating that any type of movement is better than remaining sedentary.”

Moore added: “Older adults face many barriers to participating in structured exercise programs, so some may find it more convenient and enjoyable to increase everyday walking behaviors, like parking slightly further from their destination or doing extra housework or yard work.”

A smiling senior woman wearing a white top and her husband dressed in a blue shirt walk across sand dunes

(Image credit: Getty)

The many health benefits of walking

In 2015, the US Surgeon General called on all Americans to walk at least 22 minutes per day to combat chronic disease. That's because walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, a leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in America. For many people, walking is accessible, achievable and free. Here are some of the other top-line health benefits of walking regularly...

Walking helps you sleep better
When you make time for daily strolls, whether that’s one longer walk or shorter bursts throughout the day, your sleep also benefits as you’re more tired at night and your ‘sleep drive’ is higher. There are proven mental health benefits of walking too, including an easing of anxiety symptoms.

Walking lowers blood pressure and stroke risk
According to the Harvard School of Public Health’s Walking for Exercise research, walking wards off heart disease by lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart. Post-menopausal people who walk for one to two miles a day can also lower their blood pressure significantly in under six months, while walking for 30 minutes a day reduces a person’s risk of stroke by 20%. Power walking reduces it further.

Walking helps people manage diabetes
There’s good news for people with diabetes too, as physical activity such as brisk walking helps improve insulin sensitivity in those with Type 1 diabetes, and can delay or prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Along with staying on top of your medication and regularly testing your blood sugar (read our guide to the best glucose meters if you need one), the American Diabetes Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, spread over at least three days a week with no more than two consecutive rest days.

Walking also aids weight loss
Brisk walking is also a recommended method of weight loss and weight control. In a study looked at how age, sex and BMI each influence the effectiveness of brisk walking for managing obesity in adults. Analysis of 22 randomized controlled trials found that walking for three hours a week caused significant reductions in body weight, waist circumference, BMI and fat mass in adults under the age of 50 who had obesity.

So whether you opt for longer daily walks or split it up into shorter bursts throughout the day, increasing your steps and moving your body with walking has nothing but positive effects for your health. 

Claire Davies

Claire is Health and Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews and covers all aspects of health, wellbeing and personal care. With over 17 years' experience as a qualified journalist, writer and editor, Claire has worked across some of Future's most prestigious, market-leading brands. Due to past struggles with insomnia, she is particularly passionate about the role quality sleep plays in our physical and mental health, and loves helping readers to sleep better. Claire is always keen to hear from brands regarding products and services that can help readers feel healthy, happy and empowered.