How Many Steps Do the Elderly Need to Be Healthy?

Most seniors are aware that being active is good for them. While being aware is a good thing, many seniors practice it by walking whenever they can. Moreover, many of them even measure their steps using their cell phones or wearable activity trackers. In addition, some of the more competitive minded, even aim for 10,000 (about five miles) to 15,000 steps rationalizing that the more the better for their health. However, is that really true?

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Latest Studies on Steps

In fact, a study published in the May 2019 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine provided answers. Especially relevant, this study, by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, looked at 17,000 elderly American women. Incidentally, these women were, on average, 72 years old.

Furthermore, for the purpose of the study, these women agreed to clip on wearable activity trackers during their waking hours. Indeed, these activity trackers counted steps and pace for seven days, while they went about their normal day-to-day activities.

Next, the researchers divided the women into four groups:

  1. 1
    First, group 1 consisted of women who averaged 2,700 steps daily
  2. 2
    Next, group 2 consisted of women who averaged 4,400 steps or about one to two miles daily
  3. 3
    Next, group 3 consisted of women who averaged 5,900 steps daily
  4. 4
    Finally, group 4 consisted of women who averaged 8,500 steps daily

Meanwhile, the study’s average follow-up period was a little over four years. Regrettably, in that period, 500 of the women died.

Findings

Most noteworthy, the study found after the follow-up period of about four years:

  1. 1
    First, that women who averaged 4,400 steps daily reduced their risk of dying by 41 percent compared to women who averaged 2,700 steps daily
  2. 2
    Next, that women who averaged 5,900 steps daily reduced their risk of dying by 46 percent compared to women who averaged 2,700 steps daily
  3. 3
    Next, women who averaged 8,500 steps daily reduced their risk of dying by 58 percent compared to women who averaged 2,700 daily steps
  4. 4
    Finally, the risk of dying appeared to level off at around 7,500 steps daily. Consequently, doing more steps daily had minimal effect on the risk of dying.

Most noteworthy, researchers found that the pace of walking didn’t make a measurable difference on the risk of dying. Consequently, the women got the same benefits by walking slowly as by walking fast.

Observational Study

Especially relevant, the study was observational. Indeed, the study provided results based on an observational association between the daily step count and risk of dying.

Furthermore, because the study was observational, the study could not provide causality. For example, women could have walked more because they were already healthier. In fact, the study did not determine how or why walking lowered the risk of dying. On the other hand, many other studies show that physical activity:

  1. 1
    First lowers blood pressure
  2. 2
    Next improves blood sugar processing
  3. 3
    Also improves cholesterol levels
  4. 4
    Next results in better thinking
  5. 5
    Also improves memory skills
  6. 6
    Finally, improves quality of life

Takeaway

Most of all, you don’t have to go to the gym to reduce your risk of dying. In fact, you can lower the risk by simply walking 2,700 steps each day. While walking 4,400 steps daily reduces the risk most. Also, because the study showed that risk of dying reaches a plateau, you don’t need to walk 10,000 or 15,000 steps. In fact, just walking 7,500 steps reduces the risk of dying as much as possible.

However, some people are not walkers. For example, they don’t have safe neighborhoods, or they feel unsteady on sidewalks. Consequently, these people need to be creative in getting that physical activity. Perhaps, these people need to go to a gym class or, the pool or, use pedals in their home.

Final Observations

First and foremost, the results of the study apply to only elderly women over 65 years of age. While these results may apply to elderly men over 65, more studies are needed. Similarly, the results of this study may not apply to the younger age groups of men and women. Finally, whether the results apply to these other groups or not, walking is one of countless ways for all to be active and stay healthy.

Other Studies on Steps

Meanwhile other studies show similar results. For example, a Canadian study of diabetics showed that improving step count from 5,000 to 6,200 steps daily improved sugar control.

Finally, another study found women in a 24 week walking program reduced their blood pressure by 11 points with 9,000 steps daily.

About the Author Lisa