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Walking can help you live longer: 7,000 steps a day is enough to reduce your risk of death and dementia. Photo: Shutterstock

Start walking to live longer and in better health – 7,000 steps a day enough to lower the risks of death by half

  • Accident and emergency doctor Michael Daignault says walking is an underrated exercise, but it’s free to perform and is well tolerated by most
  • Studies show just 7,000 steps a day are enough to dramatically reduce your chances of dying. Daily walking can lower your risks for dementia and diabetes too

Did you know that getting in your daily steps could save your life?

A new study of more than 2,000 adults showed that taking at least 7,000 steps per day reduced mortality risk by 50 per cent to 70 per cent compared to those who took fewer steps. The average age of study participants was 45, and they were followed over an 11-year period.

This is the kind of evidence-based study I like to share with my patients in the accident and emergency. Although our time together is limited, I try to discuss diet and exercise with my patients as much as possible. I’ve found that most patients who don’t typically exercise find it a daunting task to start.

They assume that their only option is to transition from not exercising to joining a gym. While a lot of people can make that leap, I actually recommend most patients start off slowly – they may also need clearance from their primary care doctor or cardiologist first.

Many people can get most of their steps in during their daily activities. You can top up your step count during an evening stroll. Photo: Shutterstock

Walking also reduces your risk of dementia

A really fascinating United-Kingdom-based study published in JAMA looked at a larger group of adults to determine if walking had any benefit with reducing the risk of dementia. Scientists studied over 78,000 adults ranging from 40 to 79 years. This group had a higher average age than the aforementioned study and were followed over seven years.

Forget 10,000 steps, 7,000 will help you live longer and be healthier

The study found that around 10,000 steps a day was the optimal amount for an observed reduction in the risk of dementia.

The previous study did not demonstrate an association between step intensity and reduction in mortality. If you’re just starting out with a daily walk, you don’t have to overexert yourself to get the benefit.

Researchers behind the JAMA study did find that there was a benefit to intensity. They noted that steps performed at a higher intensity – 112 steps per minute – resulted in an even stronger association; step intensity further reduced the risk of dementia.

What accounts for the different results between the two studies? It’s unclear – but the benefit of intensity was found in the larger study of 78,000 participants. Perhaps the smaller study had an insufficient number of individuals to draw a meaningful conclusion.

A study found that 10,000 steps a day was the optimal amount for an observed reduction in the risk of dementia. Photo: Shutterstock

Is it time to bring back the post-dinner stroll?

When’s the best time to get those steps in? A lot of people – me included – have jobs that keep us active and on our feet during the day. For example, I clock in about 5,000 to 6,000 steps in an average eight-hour accident and emergency shift.

People with active jobs might prefer to try to hit that goal with an evening stroll.

Walking after dinner helps control your blood sugar levels. Photo: Shutterstock

Another new study found a lot of benefit to a post-dinner walk. Many people subscribe to the popular belief that walking after dinner aids digestion and clears the mind. A recent comprehensive review of multiple studies that aggregates the results in the Sports Medicine journal found that light walking for just two to five minutes significantly tempered blood sugar levels.

The studies looked at people with and without diabetes. It’s important for diabetics in particular to control the frequency of blood sugar spikes.
That being said, morning is also a great time for a walk. I highly recommend getting some early morning sunlight within an hour of waking. It’s really important to get skin exposure to early morning sunlight so your body can produce that critical vitamin D. Leave the sunscreen off – unless you are very sensitive to sunburn – since UVA and UVB are in less abundance before noon.

A little vitamin D a day helps keep dementia at bay – just ask the experts

It’s also important to get some indirect sunlight to your eyes to kick-start your circadian rhythm for the day. Consider leaving your sunglasses at home too – just remember to never look directly at the sun.

Multiple studies show a clear mortality benefit in getting in those 10,000 steps every day. While the studies show differing results on the benefits of step intensity, studies show a cardiovascular benefit to intensity of any exercise, as tolerated.

The key point is that walking is free, accessible, and well-tolerated by the majority of people. If you’re ready to start exercising, walking should be your gateway drug of choice.

Dr Michael Daignault says walking should be your ‘gateway drug’ of choice. Photo: Facebook

Dr Michael Daignault is an accident and emergency doctor in Los Angeles and a former US Peace Corps Volunteer.

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