Are you getting your daily steps in?
Walking could save your life.
Did you know that getting in your daily steps could save your life?
A new study of more than 2,000 adults showed that taking at least 7,000 steps a day reduced mortality by 50% to 70% compared with those who took fewer steps. The average age of study participants was 45, and they were followed over 11 years.
This is the kind of evidence-based study I like to share with my patients in the ER. Although our time together is limited, I try to discuss diet and exercise with my patients as much as possible. I’ve found that most patients who don’t typically exercise find it daunting to start.
They assume their only option is to transition from not exercising to joining a gym. While a lot of people can make that leap, I actually recommend most patients start off slowly – and they may also need clearance from their primary care doctor or cardiologist first.
Walking is a very underrated exercise. And there has been a flurry of studies all showing the various benefits of walking.
Walking reduces your risk of dementia
A fascinating United-Kingdom-based study published in JAMA looked at an even larger group of adults to determine whether walking had any benefit with reducing the risk of dementia. Scientists studied more than 78,000 adults ages 40 to 79. This group had a higher average age than the aforementioned study and were followed over seven years.
This study found that about 10,000 steps a day was the optimal amount for an observed reduction in the risk of dementia.
The previous study did not demonstrate an association between step intensity and reduction in mortality. Meaning, if you’re just starting out with a daily walk, you don’t have to overexert yourself to get the benefit. But researchers behind the JAMA study did find that there was a benefit to intensity. They noted that steps performed at a higher intensity – 112 steps a minute– resulted in an even stronger association, meaning that step intensity further reduced the risk of dementia.
Is it time to bring back the after-dinner stroll?
When’s the best time to get those steps in? A lot of people – me included – have jobs that keep us active on our feet during the day. For example, I clock in 5,000 to 6,000 steps in an average eight-hour ER shift. So some people might prefer to try to hit that 10K step goal with an evening stroll.
Another new study found a lot of benefit to an after-dinner walk. A lot of people subscribe to the popular belief that walking after dinner aids digestion and clears the mind. Well, a recent meta-analysis (a comprehensive review of multiple studies that aggregates the results) in the journal Sports Medicine found that light walking for just two to five minutes significantly tempered blood sugar levels. The studies looked at both those with and without diabetes. Remember, it’s important for diabetics in particular to control the frequency of blood sugar spikes.
That being said, morning is also a great time for a walk. I highly recommend getting some early morning sunlight within an hour of waking. It’s really important to get skin exposure to that sunlight so your body can produce crucial vitamin D so leave the sunscreen off (unless you are very sensitive to sunburn) because UVA and UVB are in less abundance before noon.
It’s also important to get some indirect sunlight to your eyes to kick-start your circadian rhythm for the day. Consider leaving the sunglasses at home – but please never look directly at the sun!
The bottom line is that multiple studies show a clear mortality benefit in getting in those 10K steps every day. While the aforementioned studies showed differing results on the benefits of step intensity, there are multiple studies showing a cardiovascular benefit to intensity of any exercise, as tolerated. The key point is that walking is free, accessible and well tolerated by the majority of people. If you’re ready to start exercising, walking should be your gateway drug of choice.
RPCV Michael Daignault, MD, (Eastern Caribbeon 2003-04) is a board-certified ER doctor in Los Angeles. He studied Global Health at Georgetown University and has a Medical Degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency training in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault