Hasten your walk for better health

2 Hasten Walk
A woman walks for exercise in Elmhurst, Illinois on June 28, 2022. In the largest study on activity tracker data to date, picking up the pace paid dividends for long-term health. (Photo: NYTimes)
Many people regularly wear activity trackers, which count the number of steps taken in a day. But it can be hard to make sense of what these numbers might mean for overall health. Is it just the total number of steps in a day that matter, or does exercise intensity, such as going for a brisk walk or jog, make a difference?اضافة اعلان

In a new study comparing activity tracker data from 78,500 people (the largest such study to date), walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, and premature death, compared with walking a similar number of steps at a slower pace. The results were published in two papers in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology.

For the study, which included participants from UK Biobank, individuals of an average age of 61 agreed to wear activity trackers for seven full day, including nights.

 “Activity tracker data is going to be better than self-reported data,” said Dr Michael Fredericson, a sports physician at Stanford University.

“We know that people’s ability to self-report is flawed,” often because they do not accurately remember how much exercise they performed in a day or week, he said.

After collecting the study data, the researchers tracked participants’ health outcomes, including whether they developed heart disease, cancer, or dementia, or died during a period of six to eight years.

First, the researchers found that every 2,000 steps per day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease, and cancer by about 10 percent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. When it came to developing dementia, 9,800 steps per day was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk, and 3,800 steps was associated with about a 25 percent reduced risk. Not enough participants took over 10,000 daily steps to determine whether there were additional benefits above that threshold.

These results match those of previous studies showing that the benefits of walking start well before the often-touted 10,000 steps per day.

Then, the researchers study did something new. When they looked at the highest per-minute step rate recorded during 30 minutes in a day, they found that participants whose average highest pace was a brisk walk (between 80 and 100 steps per minute) had better health outcomes compared with those who walked a similar amount at a slower pace.

Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.

To put these numbers into perspective, a person whose total daily steps include 2,400 to 3,000 “brisk steps” could see a sharp reduction in the risk for developing heart disease, cancer, and dementia, even without taking many additional steps.

“It doesn’t have to be a consecutive 30-minute session,” said Matthew Ahmadi, a research fellow at the University of Sydney and one of the study authors. “It can just be in brief bursts here and there throughout your day.”

In terms of the difference between brisk walking and jogging, there wasn’t enough data to determine if one was better than the other, but both resulted in better overall health outcomes than did a slower average pace.

A 2013 study following 49,005 runners and walkers also suggested that brisk walking or jogging for similar distances offer similar heart health benefits, even though walking a mile takes longer.

The new study is part of ongoing research into just how important exercise intensity is to various health outcomes. The findings suggest that maintaining good health does not necessarily require a lot of high-intensity exercise, and that a regular amount of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, can offer a high level of protection against health complications.

When it comes to incorporating more intense exercise into daily life, Dr Tamanna Singh, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, often reminds her patients that everything is relative. “Everybody is starting from a different training status,” she said.

A brisk pace for one person may not be brisk for another, but what matters is the relative effort. When it comes to brisk walking, “at these moderate levels of effort, you are able to increase your aerobic capacity”, Singh said.

“That constant slow stress on your body is what leads to fitness gains,” Singh said. “If you’re just getting started, this is probably the easiest way to get started and stay committed, consistent and injury-free.” In addition to the long-term health benefits, intense walking could also lower blood pressure, moderate blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

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