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Doing 10,000 steps a day is good, but study shows walking fast is better

They found that 10,000 steps a day was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of dementia.

Physical activity in general has “huge benefits” for cardiovascular health and brain health, explains co-senior author Dr. Matthew Ahmadi, a researcher at the Charles Perkins Center and the University of Sydney School of Medicine and Health.


“We know that with dementia risk and brain health in general, you’re likely to see improvements in vasculature throughout the brain, which can increase or maintain brain cell health,” Ahmadi says, adding that Vascular dementia is closely related to cardiovascular health, which is affected by our levels of physical activity.

Up to 10,000 steps a day were also associated with consistent decreases in cancer risk, risk of cardiovascular disease, and death from any cause.

The minimum dose for health benefits was 3,800 steps a day, which was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk of dementia. For every 2,000 step increase above that, there was an eight to 11 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Interestingly, walking pace had benefits beyond total steps, and people who only moved 30 minutes a day, but at a brisk walking pace, saw health benefits similar to the 20 percent of participants who achieved 10,000 at day.

“Sometimes reaching 10,000 steps can be really difficult,” says Ahmadi. “If you can walk at a faster pace for brief moments throughout the day, you can reap the same health benefits as those who have time to hit that 10K mark.”

He adds, “Obviously if you want to max everything out, hit that 10K and walk at a faster pace.”

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Rob Newton, professor of exercise medicine at Edith Cowan University, explains that higher-intensity exercise “triggers a much more powerful production of ‘internal medicine’ within the body through hormonal and immune responses.”

Ahmadi explains that the discrepancy between this research and studies published last year is because his was the first study to use 24-hour step data. Previous studies have monitored participants for 12 to 14 hours a day “potentially missing some additional steps that may occur.”

As devices that give us feedback on our activity have become much more prevalent, it’s information that can give us a tangible goal each day and, Ahmadi says, can inform future public health recommendations:

“We are working to achieve those guidelines based on the first steps for the 2030 iteration of the WHO physical activity guidelines.”

Newtown, who was not involved in the research, says it’s a large and important study that demonstrates “the absolute necessity” of regular physical activity. But, he adds, “there’s nothing magical about stepping on.”

Rather, it’s volume and intensity that matter, so it could equally be achieved through swimming, rowing, cycling, dancing, or running.

We also need strength training to prevent muscle and bone loss as we age.

“Exercise is not a single medicine. There are many different types and the way it is taken in terms of dosage has quite a variety of benefits for different systems within the body,” says Newton. “This latest research sends a clear message that despite all the advances in medical science, humans need to be physically active every day.”

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