According to a new study (opens in new tab) from the AHA, the more you walk, the healthier you'll be. The study tested middle-aged adults with an average age of 45, and found that those with the highest daily step counts had a 43% lower risk of diabetes and a 31% lower risk of high blood pressure when compared to those with the lowest step counts.
It's widely acknowledged that increasing your physical activity will improve your overall health. However, these findings show that you don't have to employ a high-intensity workout routine to lower your risk of diabetes or high blood pressure. As the study focused on those approaching older adulthood, the news is encouraging for those who are looking to employ preventative methods to improve heart health and overall wellbeing.
“Diabetes and high blood pressure are not inevitable. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as attaining and maintaining a healthy body weight, improving diet and increasing physical activity can help reduce diabetes risk. This study shows that walking is an effective therapy to decrease risk,” said Robert H. Eckel, former president of the American Heart Association.
The news comes after recent research (opens in new tab) from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that irregular sleeping patterns can double the risk of cardiovascular disease among older adults, adding to a body of findings which suggest that general lifestyle changes can make huge differences in overall heart health.
Every step counts
We recently revealed concerns (opens in new tab) among healthcare professionals regarding trials to see if the Apple Watch (opens in new tab) can detect early signs of strokes. However, the AHA survey's lead author, Amanda E. Paluch, has said that “walking is a widely accessible form of physical activity, and steps-per-day is an easy measurement and motivator that most people understand and can easily measure given the booming industry of wearable technologies or smartphones.” Whilst wearables may not be replacing medical-grade equipment any time soon, one-in-five Americans (opens in new tab) owns a fitness tracker. This means that, for many, using step counts to motivate increased activity is already part of daily life.
“For people who find the idea of a daily, extended exercise period and physical activity regimen daunting, shifting the focus to accumulating steps throughout the day may help them become more active,” said Paluch. “The more steps, the better.”
All the best fitness trackers (opens in new tab) will tell you to walk for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. However, this number is not actually based (opens in new tab) on scientific research, but a marketing campaign dating back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The AHA found that, among women, every additional 1,000 steps leads to a 13% decrease in a risk of obesity. So even if you're not able to hit your step count every day, that doesn't mean you can't vastly improve your health by swapping out a bus ride for a stroll to the office.
Likewise, if you're already hitting those 10,000 steps that doesn't mean your work is done. Among women, those with the highest step count are 61% less likely to be obese, compared to women who walked the least. The study took place over nine years, finding that a consistently high step count is associated with a lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. This could mean that investing in the best smartwatches (opens in new tab) will pay off far more than that gym membership you never use, by motivating you to hit achievable daily activity goals without the often intimidating environment. In fact, with the best treadmills (opens in new tab), you can even hit those step counts within your own home.