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3600 Steps Per Day At A Normal Pace Could Reduce the Risk of Heart Failure By 26%, Says New Study

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10,000 steps per day? Scientific evidence strongly supports that physical activity is good for our health as we age. However, how much exercise is good for you exactly? The solution, according to recent research from the University of Buffalo, is not 10,000 steps a day.

Engaging in consistent physical activity stands as a paramount factor in promoting overall health. It not only enhances brain health but also contributes to weight management, lowers the risk of various diseases, fortifies bones and muscles, and enhances proficiency in daily activities.

However, how much exercise is really good for those over 60? The solution, according to a recent study from the University of Buffalo, is not 10,000 steps a day.

Published today in JAMA Cardiology, the study examined nearly 6,000 U.S. women aged 63-99. It revealed that, on average, engaging in 3,600 steps per day at a normal pace was associated with a 26% lower risk of developing heart failure.

In particular, accelerometer-measured physical activity, sedentary time, and heart failure risk were examined in this observational research from the Women’s Health Initiative. Over a mean follow-up of 7.5 years, 407 heart failure cases were found and verified by medical professionals.

For every 70 minutes a day spent in mild-intensity activities and every 30 minutes a day spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activities, the odds of developing heart failure were, on average, 12% and 16% reduced, respectively. On the other hand, there was an average 17% increased risk of heart failure for every hour and a half of inactive time.

“In ambulatory older women,” explains lead author Dr. Michael J. LaMonte, “higher amounts of usual daily light and moderate intensity activities were associated with lower risk of developing heart failure with preserved ejection fraction independent of demographic and clinical factors associated with heart failure risk.”

“Accumulating 3,000 steps per day,” according to the author, “might be a reasonable target that would be consistent with the amount of daily activity performed by women in this study.”

With the exception of days spent in the water, research participants wore an accelerometer on their hip for up to seven days in a row. Walking at a typical speed, climbing stairs, or performing yard work were examples of moderate to vigorous physical activity, while self-care, housework, and caring were examples of light physical activity.

The research is unique in that it examined two different forms of heart failure, the most prevalent of which is known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFpEF. For HFpEF, a same trend of decreased risk with increased light- to moderate-intensity daily exercise and increased risk with extended inactive time was seen.

“This is a major, unique finding of our study,” remarks the author, “because there is very little published data on physical activity and HFpEF, so we are providing new information upon which other studies can build.”

“More importantly, HFpEF is the most common form of heart failure seen in older women and among racial and ethnic minority groups, and at present there are few established treatment options, which makes primary prevention all the more relevant for HFpEF. The potential for light intensity activities of daily life to contribute to the prevention of HFpEF in older women is an exciting and promising result for future studies to evaluate in other groups, including older men.”

According to LaMonte, the team’s assessment of the daily step count as a means of measuring and interpreting the positive outcomes for physical activity was also innovative.

As a component of good aging, encouraging older persons to engage in more physical activity is a wise recommendation backed by data from science.

However according to LaMonte, “conveying how much activity is always a challenge to incorporate as part of clinical and public health recommendations.”

“Steps per day is easily understood and can be measured by a variety of consumer-level wearable devices to help people monitor their physical activity levels.”

In this investigation, the risk of heart failure, including HFpEF, notably decreased at approximately 2,500 steps per day. Standardizing to 3,600 steps per day (equivalent to 1 standard deviation unit), a 25-30% reduction in the risk of heart failure and HFpEF was observed.

These findings emerge amidst ongoing scrutiny of physical activity guidelines for older adults by the U.S. government, particularly in terms of recommended daily step counts. The study highlights that steps associated with diminished heart failure risk are considerably lower than the often-touted 10,000 steps for optimal health and well-being.

For context, the average daily step count among women in the study stood at 3,588, notably higher than the average among similarly aged U.S. women, which rests at 2,340 steps per day.

“It appeared that intensity of stepping did not influence the lower risk of heart failure as results were comparable for light intensity steps and for more vigorous steps,” adds LaMonte.

“Our results showing heart failure prevention in older women might be enhanced through walking around 3,000 steps or so per day at usual pace is very relevant given the current emphasis at the federal level on identifying an amount of daily physical activity that can be referenced against steps per day for cardiovascular health and resilience to incorporate in future public health guidelines.”

Source: 10.1001/jamacardio.2023.5692

Image Credit: iStock

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