Many of us regularly wear an activity tracker, which counts the number of steps we take in a day. Based on these numbers, it can be hard to make sense of what they might mean for our overall health. Is it just the overall number of steps in a day that matter, or does exercise intensity, such as going for a brisk walk or jog, make a difference?
In a new study, which looks at activity tracker data from 78,500 people, walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death, compared with walking a similar number of steps but at a slower pace. These results were recently published in two papers in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology.
9,800 steps a day offered the highest level of protection.
For these studies, which included participants from UK Biobank, participants with an average age of 61 agreed to wear activity trackers for seven full days, including nights, at the beginning of the trial. This study represents the largest one to date that incorporates activity tracker data.
“Activity tracker data is going to be better than self-reported data,” said Dr. Michael Fredericson, a sports physician at Stanford University, who was not involved in the study. “We know that people’s ability to self-report is flawed,” often because people don’t accurately remember how much exercise they did in a day or week.
AAfter collecting this data, researchers then tracked participant’s health outcomes, which included whether they developed heart disease, cancer, dementia or died during a period of six to eight years.
Researchers found that every 2,000 additional steps a 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, with a risk reduction of 25 percent starting at about 3,800 steps per day. Above 10,000 steps a day, there just weren’t enough participants with that level of activity to determine whether there were additional benefits.
In the past, similar studies have also shown that the benefits of walking start well before the often-touted 10,000 steps a day.
Brisk walking, even in short bursts, offered additional benefits
But then the researchers of this study did something new. When they looked at the step rate, per minute, of the highest 30 minutes of activity 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 each day but at a slower pace.
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