Fewer Steps Can Lower Death Rates

And just like that, August has landed and on your daily walk you may have noticed a distinct shift; the air is cooler and it’s just a tiny bit darker later into the morning.  But a break from the heat and humidity of July has more walkers, bikers and joggers hitting the trails trying to get in all their daily steps.  With the advent of activity trackers, older adults may feel intimidated trying to achieve the recommended 10,000 steps each day, but all is not lost; making a commitment to move just a little more each day is a worthy goal that may extend your life. 

According to a recent study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, older women who walked more than their peers had a lower mortality rate.  Women, with an average age of 72, who took just 4,400 daily steps had a lower mortality rate than more sedentary women who took only about 2,700 steps each day.  

While taking more steps cannot be said to be the cause of greater longevity among older women, it is likely an indicator of overall good health.  Brisk walking not only improves fitness, strength and balance but spending time outdoors in nature has been associated with improved mood and good mental health.  And if a friend or partner joins you on a daily walk, the social interaction can help protect overall well-being.  

If you are already hitting a daily goal of 10,000 steps, the Women’s Health Study findings do not suggest backing off your activity level.  But seniors who find it daunting to reach this goal may find it encouraging to learn that even moderate activity is of value and may help to increase their longevity.  All steps take throughout the day count towards a goal to stay more active, not just during a planned walk and walking speed did not appear to affect mortality rates.   The study which tracked the steps 16,741 older women took each week, followed up with participants over the next four years. Additional declines in death rates were associated with an increase in the number of steps taken up to 7,500 steps, at which point the mortality rates stabilized. 

The takeaway?  Moving more each day, even just a bit, is beneficial to health and well-being.  And if you may be falling short of your daily step goals, take heart that making the effort to walk more and sit less has measurable benefits for older adults.  Small changes in activity level, diet or other lifestyles habits can, over time, offer significant improvements in well being.   As always, talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime and start off slowly, gradually increasing intensity and duration, listen to your body and have fun!