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A large study by Australian and Danish researchers found that while taking a high number of steps did reduce the risk of dementia, heart disease and cancer, the intensity of walking was an equally important factor, or even more important.
How well are you walking your 10,000 steps a day? The figure, easy to remember, is indeed a barometer known today to keep in shape and ward off cardiovascular problems, cancer, or even dementia. But a new study published in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine, JAMA Neurology and conducted jointly by the Universities of Sydney and Southern Denmark could qualify this approach: a faster pace of our steps would have protective benefits beyond the number of steps taken. Good news for people who are a little less active.
Speed increases profits, regardless of the number of steps
To reach this conclusion, the study analyzed data from 78,500 British adults aged 40 to 79 with wearable trackers, thus carrying out the largest study on the subject. The participants then wore an accelerometer on their wrist to measure physical activity at least 3 days out of 7 days a week. This information was linked to participants’ health records. Only those who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or dementia at baseline and free of disease during the first two years of the study were included in the final assessment.
The observational study made it possible to distinguish several main lines:
- Approximately every 2,000 steps, and up to 10,000 in fact, the risk of premature death is reduced by 8 to 11%. This also applies to the risks of cardiovascular diseases and the incidence of cancers;
- A high number of steps per day is associated with a lower risk of dementia. 9800 steps reduce risk by 50%;
- But 3,800 steps per day reduce this risk by 25% already, if the intensity is there;
- Walking intensity and speed showed beneficial associations for all outcomes (dementia, heart disease, cancer, and death) regardless of total step count.
If you don’t walk enough, walk faster
“The take-home message here is that, for protective health benefits, people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps per day, but also aim to walk faster”said co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, a researcher at the University of Sydney.
Indeed, if the message of 10,000 steps has now passed into popular knowledge, in particular thanks to the step trackers installed in our smartphones, the speed and intensity put into the effort are rarely addressed, and rarely come to the people’s minds.
The study could change the game, and offer people who have reduced activity the means to mobilize a little more for their health. For the study authors, the findings could inform the first formal stage-based physical activity guidelines and help develop more effective public health programs aimed at preventing chronic disease.