It has been known for quite a while that physical activity is good for heart health and health in general. Globally, a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to all-cause mortality. Many trials have demonstrated that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. In addition, physical activity can assist in weight loss, reducing the risk of cancer and metabolic disorders. Over the years, it has been widely promoted that walking 10 thousand steps per day can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Although this is a worthwhile goal, this number is large and can be intimidating, especially for those starting to exercise or those with reduced exercise tolerance. What does the current research tell us about the relationship between the number of steps per day and cardiovascular health? In an abstract published in November 2021, investigators performed a meta-analysis including seven prospective studies to understand this relationship better.
Nearly 17,000 participants were monitored for adverse cardiovascular events over a median timeframe of 6.3 years. Quartiles were established based on median steps per day, and hazard ratios for cardiovascular disease were calculated to measure risk. As expected, an increased number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, 10 thousand steps were not required to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although 10 thousand steps were associated with the most significant reduction in risk, 5 thousand steps strongly reduced cardiovascular disease risk. The strengths of this study include its large sample size and risk-adjusted statistical modeling.
The lesson learned from these results is that walking more is better for cardiovascular health. Indeed, 10 thousand steps is a lofty goal for many people, but it shouldn’t be discouraging. Exercise is a highly individualized activity, and any incremental increase in physical activity is beneficial. Healthcare providers should consider these results when discussing a personalized exercise program with their patients.