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Walking the walk: Every step is a step in the right direction

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We all agree that regular physical activity is good not only for the body but also for the mind. While for some people hitting the gym is an easy routine activity, for others it is not as easy. Is there a gym alternative for achieving the health benefits of physical exercise? The answer lies in a simple activity that we all do: walking. Yes, walking every day for at least 15-20 minutes is generally considered a reachable goal with tremendous beneficial effects on general health. Historically, health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control would recommend that everyone takes 10,000 steps every day. Why this number?

Curiously, the origin of 10,000 steps per day is not science but a marketing idea. It originated from a Japanese company that made a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese. It is believed that because the Japanese character for “10,000” looks like a person walking, the company called its device the 10,000-steps meter.

For more than a decade the gold standard for the health benefits has been set at 10,000 steps per day, a  number that is well above the average 2,500 to 3,000 steps that one takes regularly. However, surprisingly, some recent research suggests that at 8,000 steps per day the health benefits start to plateau.

So, forget the 10,000 steps a day? Not so fast. A recent study measured the positive impact of daily walking and step-counting and found that walking about 4,000 steps was associated with a reduction of total mortality. However, a higher reduction was observed for people taking 6,000 to 7,000 steps per day.

Even newer research points to the life-saving benefit of simply adding 1,000 and even 500 step increments to our regular daily walking routine, but 4,000 steps a day are needed to significantly reduce mortality.

While more steps are always better, researchers found that every extra 500 daily steps were associated with a 7 percent decreased risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and that every 1,000 daily steps were associated with a 15 percent decreased risk of death from all causes. Significant reduction in all-cause mortality was seen at 4,000 steps, but even 2,500 steps per day provided some health benefit.

Further confirming these findings, in another case, scientists combined the results of a large number of studies and discovered that with the increase of the number of daily steps there is a proportional lowering of the risk for cognitive decline and dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Putting all the available science into context, I am happy to say that there is good news for individuals who, due to personal, family, or work-related reasons, may find it very difficult and challenging to keep a schedule based on regular and structured (i.e., gym) physical activity, but are still interested in maintaining or improving general health and promoting longevity.

Anybody can make even small lifestyle changes to add more steps into the daily routine of the 2,000-3000 steps.

Here are some easy ways to reach this goal: have an after-dinner walk with a friend; take a stroll before your morning commute; if you do not have a dog, volunteer to walk a dog for an animal shelter or a friend; take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator.

I would like to share with you a final but important thought. Please remember that it does not matter at what age one starts a regular walking daily routine, rest assured that the health benefits are still there whether you are 50, 70, or 80 years old.

Happy walking to everybody!

For more information on this topic, please visit my website: www.pratico-lab.com

 

Dr. Domenico Pratico is the director of the Alzheimer’s Center at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Dr. Domenico Pratico

Dr. Domenico Pratico is the director of the Alzheimer’s Center at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia.

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