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Walk More for a Longer Life
Taking 8,000 Steps a Day can Reduce Risk of Dying by 51%

Get out and walk.
Get out and walk.
Image of Guinea grass by
John Robert McPherson.

One of the earliest published studies on the benefits of walking came out in 1953. Jerry Morris and colleagues studied London Transport Authority bus drivers. The bus CONDUCTORS spent their days standing and climbing up and down the stairs of the double-decker buses while collecting tickets. The bus DRIVERS spent their shifts sitting.

Researchers found that the active conductors had about one-third the rate of coronary heart disease events than the seated bus drivers. The pay, benefits, working environment and other socioeconomic conditions were the same. The difference was activity.

A significant amount of research in the decades since has verified those groundbreaking findings. But scientists still didn't know the actual number of steps daily that would benefit. So a study was conducted by a team of researchers from The National Cancer Institute, The National Institute on Aging, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers started with 4,840 participants. The average age of the subjects was 56.8 years with 2,435 men and 1,732 women.

Between the years of 2003 and 2006, each of those subjects was outfitted with a device that measured how many steps they took daily. They were monitored for a total of seven days, once a year, for three years. That gave researchers an average number of steps that people took daily.

Over the next 10 years, those subjects were followed up on to see how they were doing. There were heart attacks, cancer and death. A total of 1165 deaths. But the surprise was who died.

Those that walked 8,000 steps a day decreased their risk of dying from any cause by 51%, over people who walked 4,000 steps a day or less. There wasn't a significant difference between people who walked with greater intensity or more speed. The big difference was simply the number of steps.

The next big jump came at 12,000 steps a day. Participants who did that had a 65% lower risk of dying. The results held even after adjusting for things like age, education, gender and race. The results were so dramatic, researchers recommended that everyone should do what they could to walk more.

Here are a few ways you can get more steps in.

Start by tracking what you’re currently doing. You need to know what your starting point is. Measure it with a pedometer or a step counter on your smartphone.

Make sure you have comfortable shoes. Don't walk more in shoes that fit poorly or aren't appropriate for your daily tasks. If you've got foot problems, meet with a podiatrist (foot doctor) and get their professional opinion.

Put walking on your calendar. It can be reminders throughout the day, as an item that appears on the top of a to-do list or a daily schedule. The point is to make a commitment and block aside time to do it.

Go out of your way for routine things. Use bathrooms that are farther away. Stand up and walk around your room before using a television remote. Carry groceries into your home one bag at a time. Then put things away, one item at a time.

Walk in place when doing stationary tasks. Get up during commercials, when you talk on the phone and when you're sending a text. If you sit at a computer all day, elevate it so you can work on it while standing up.

Link walking with food. Every time you eat something, get up and take a five-minute walk. It’s a great way to digest food and helps you burn a few of those calories off.

Replace or minimize transportation whenever possible. Instead of driving to a corner store, walk. Get off the bus a block or two before your regular stop. Park at the far end of a lot when you go to a store.

Finally, go big and challenge yourself to a virtual trek. Pledge to walk the Appalachian trail, the Tour de France, the Tōkai Nature Trail, the Great Divide or the Camino de Santiago. Put a map up outlining the trail and marking the distance. Then at the end of each day, move a pin or marker according to how many steps you’ve taken. 10,000 steps roughly translates to 5 miles. Imagine how good you'll feel when you finish.

You can download a PDF of the walking study here: Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults

Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, PhD1; Richard P. Troiano, PhD2; David R. Bassett Jr, PhD3; et alBarry I. Graubard, PhD1; Susan A. Carlson, PhD4; Eric J. Shiroma, ScD5; Janet E. Fulton, PhD4; Charles E. Matthews, PhD1
JAMA. 2020;323(12):1151-1160. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1382

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