As little as 2,100 steps a day can extend lives of pensioners

As few as 2,100 steps a day could extend the lives of pensioners and slash the risk of heart disease and diabetes in middle-aged people

  • Researchers in the US looked at data from nearly 2,000 people who were active 
  • They monitored physical activity and found consistent lesser risks of disease
  • Number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is thought to be 3.5 million

A short stroll consisting of as few as 2,100 steps a day could extend the lives of pensioners, scientists say.

Research by University of California San Diego found that taking between 2,100 and 4,500 steps reduced the risk of dying of heart diseases by 38 per cent.  

Doctors advise that people of all ages should walk around 10,000 steps per day. But that target is too high for some people, especially the elderly. 

Meanwhile, a separate study found middle-aged people who walk more are less at risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. 

 Researchers in the US looked at data from nearly 2,000 people who were fitted with walking devices that monitored their physical activity

Both studies are to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention conference in Phoenix, Arizona, this week. 

In the first, Professor Andrea LaCroix and colleagues looked at 6,000 women with an average age of 79.

They found that women who did between 2,100 and 4,500 steps were healthier than those who did less than 2,100. 

Elderly women who walked more than 4,500 steps reduced their risk by 48 per cent. 

Professor LaCroix said: ‘Despite popular beliefs, there is little evidence that people need to aim for 10,000 steps daily to get cardiovascular benefits from walking.

‘Taking more steps [than normal] per day – even just a few more – is achievable. And step counts are an easy-to-understand way to measure how much we are moving. Being up and about, instead of sitting, is good for your heart.’ 

In a separate study, also to be presented at the conference, University of Massachusetts looked at the benefits of walking in middle-aged people.

They looked at data from nearly 2,000 people who were fitted with walking devices that monitored their physical activity.

MINIMUM EXERCISE GUIDELINES IN THE UK

According to the NHS, to stay healthy or improve health, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:

– at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week  

Or:

– 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week 

Or:

– a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, two x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and 

A good rule is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on five days every week.

All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

The found those who walked the most steps per day over an average of nine years had a 43 per cent lower risk of diabetes.

They also had a 31 per cent lower risk of high blood pressure, compared to those with the fewest steps.

The scientists said that their research shows that diabetes and high blood pressure are not inevitable and can be warded off by regular exercise. 

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is estimated to be 3.5million while it is thought that a further 549,000 people are living with the condition undiagnosed. 

In 2018, 34.2million Americans, or 10.5 per cent of the population, had diabetes. Risks from the condition include, if left untreated, heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and nerve damage.  

The study results were based on data from 1,923 participants in the national Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.

The participants’ average age was 45; 58 per cent of the group were women and 41 per cent were black – black Americans have higher incidence of diabetes. 

Men and women wore accelerometer devices in 2005-2006 for at least 10 hours or more per day for a minimum of four days. 

Health outcomes of those who walked the most steps were compared against those who walked the least, like in the other study. 

Among the women in the study, each 1,000-step interval resulted in a 13 per cent lower risk of obesity.

Those with the highest step count were 61 per cent less likely to be obese, compared to women who walked the least. 

However, there was no association between a lower risk of obesity and the number of daily steps walked for men in the study. 

Lead study author Dr Amanda Paluch said the results of the study add to the growing evidence about the importance of regular physical activity for improving heart health.

She said: ‘Walking is a widely accessible form of physical activity, and steps per day is an easy measurement and motivator that most people understand and can easily measure given the booming industry of wearable technologies or smartphones.’

Dr Robert H. Eckel, a former president of the American Heart Association, said the study proves that the two conditions are not inevitable and that walking is ‘an effective therapy’. 

‘Diabetes and high blood pressure are not inevitable. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as attaining and maintaining a healthy body weight, improving diet and increasing physical activity can help reduce diabetes risk. This study shows that walking is an effective therapy to decrease risk,’ he said.  

Another recent study of nearly 15,000 Britons found those who exercised for two and a half hours a week significantly cut their risk of dying in the next 13 years.

For those who were inactive previously, the risk of an early death went down by a quarter, scientists found.

But the benefits were greatest for those who already exercised and became even more active over time. Their risk of an early death plummeted by 42 per cent.

EXERCISE IN OLD AGE MAY SLOW BRAIN SHRINKING BY FOUR YEARS

Exercise in old age may slow brain shrinking by up to four years, according to preliminary study findings.

Those who did either two hours of intensive exercise per week, or seven hours of light exercise such as swimming, had bigger brains than their inactive peers. 

The effect of exercise was equal to four fewer years of brain ageing, the researchers said. 

The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure the brains of people with a range of activity levels, including those who were inactive to those who were very active. 

The scans showed less active people had smaller brain volume.

‘These results are exciting, as they suggest that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by becoming more active,’ said study author Dr Yian Gu, of Columbia University in New York.

‘Recent studies have shown that as people age, physical activity may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 

‘Our study used brain scans to measure the brain volumes of a diverse group of people and found that those who engaged in the top third highest level of physical activity had a brain volume the equivalent of four years younger in brain aging than people who were at the bottom third activity level.’

The study involved 1,557 people with an average age of 75. None had dementia, but 296 people had mild cognitive impairment and 28 per cent had a genetically higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants were given physical exams, thinking and memory tests, and were asked about their daily tasks and other physical activities. 

Researchers then calculated how much time and energy each person spent on those tasks and activities after dividing the cohort into three groups based on their level of activity. 

Their level of activity was ranked from nothing at all, to two hours of intense exercise or seven hours of light exercise, such as walking or swimming. 

Researchers then reviewed MRI brain scans of all participants and found that when compared to the people in the inactive group, those who were most active had larger total brain volume. 

The results remained similar even after excluding people who had mild cognitive impairment.

‘Our results add to the evidence that more physical activity is linked to larger brain volume in older people,’ said Dr Gu. ‘It also builds on evidence that moving your body more often throughout one’s life may protect against loss of brain volume.’ 

The findings are to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 72nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, April 25 to May 1, 2020. 

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