How fast you walk is just as important as how many steps you take in a day, research suggests.
Studies found that walking 10,000 steps a day was associated with a lower risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death.
But experts also found that a faster pace, like a power walk, showed benefits beyond how many steps were recorded.
Co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health, said: “The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster.”
Associate professor Borja del Pozo Cruz from the University of Southern Denmark, who is also a senior researcher in health at the University of Cadiz, said: “For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3,800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25%.”
Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps
Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis
According to the research, every 2,000 steps walked lowered the risk of premature death incrementally by 8% to 11%, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day.
Similar links were seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer incidence.
A higher number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of all-cause dementia.
Walking 9,800 steps was the optimal daily amount linked to a 50% lower risk of dementia, but risk was reduced by 25% at as low as 3,800 steps.
Researchers also found that stepping intensity or a faster pace showed beneficial associations for all outcomes – dementia, heart disease, cancer and death – over and above total daily steps.
Senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney, said: “Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps.
“Findings from these studies could inform the first formal step-based physical activity guidelines and help develop effective public health programmes aimed at preventing chronic disease.”
The study, published in the journals Jama Internal Medicine and Jama Neurology, drew on data from the UK Biobank study to link up step count data from 78,500 UK adults aged 40 to 79 with health outcomes seven years on.
People wore a wrist accelerometer to measure physical activity for a minimum of three days out of a seven-day period, including a weekend day and monitoring during sleep periods.
Dr Ahmadi, said: “The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers makes it the most robust evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot for health benefits and walking faster is associated with additional benefits.
“More research with longer-term use of trackers will shed more light on the health benefits associated with certain levels and intensity of daily stepping.”