More Health:

June 03, 2024

Counting steps may be just as beneficial as tracking physical activity by time

New research finds that meeting goals based on either measurement is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and death.

Fitness Exercise
exercise step count Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

Exercise recommendations are usually given in time duration, but researchers found that keeping track of steps may be an easier task for some and just as beneficial.

Many people measure their physical activity by the amount of time they spend exercising, but new research makes a case that counting steps is similarly beneficial. 

Meeting fitness goals measured by step counts and time parameters are both associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a lower risk of death from any cause among women 62 and older, according to a study published last month by JAMA Network. 

Exercise recommendations usually instruct people to spend a certain amount of time working out. For instance, federal health guidelines suggest American adults each week get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. But the researchers of the study noted that keeping track of one's steps may be easier for many people. 

    "(A)sking people to keep track of their time spent exercising each week may be adding yet another hurdle to enhancing activity levels," Cary P. Gross, of the Department of Medicine at Yale University, wrote in a JAMA editorial. "Rather than assessing the amount of time exercising, daily step counts may be a more attractive way of measuring physical activity. Many people have mobile devices with built-in accelerometers, with their daily steps counted as a matter of routine." 

    The study involved data from more than 14,300 women who participated in the Women's Health Study. The participants did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer, completed annual questionnaires and agreed to measure their physical activity levels with accelerometers. The median time duration of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity among participants was 62 minutes per week, and the median step count was 5,183 steps per day. Participants were followed up for an average of nine years.

    Participants who did more than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week had a 32% lower mortality risk than those who were the least physically active. And those with more than 7,000 steps per day had a 42% lower mortality risk than those with the lowest daily step counts.

    Those who exercised the most outlived the people who exercised the least by an average of 2.22 months when measuring physical activity by time and by 2.36 months when measuring it by steps. Researchers found similar results when it came to cardiovascular diseases. 

    "Step count–based goals should be considered for future guidelines along with time-based goals, allowing for the accommodation of personal preferences," the study authors wrote.

    So, how many steps are enough?

    As the study shows, setting step count goals can improve health and may be easier to keep track thanks to apps and smart watches that can double as pedometers. But when it comes to the number of steps people need each day, the answer isn't quite as clear guidelines based on time. 

    The average American walks about 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, but 10,000 steps is commonly cited as beneficial for weight loss and general fitness. If 10,000 seems like a difficult goal to reach, a study published last year found that 4,000 steps a day was enough to begin reducing the risk of premature death from any cause. The more steps, the more health benefits, researchers found. Every 1,000 steps beyond the 4,000- step threshold reduced the risk of early death by 15% — up until 20,000 steps.

    Some ways to increase daily step counts include joining a walking club, taking the stairs, parking in the far end of the lot while running errands, taking a dog for a walk, and going for workday walks.

    Follow Franki & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @wordsbyfranki | @thePhillyVoice
    Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
    Have a news tip? Let us know.

    Follow us

    Health Videos