4,500 steps a day could add years to your life (and housework counts)

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe.
Walking more frequently could add years to your life. (Stock, Getty Images)

When it comes to longevity, it may be worth taking things "one step at a time".

Exercise has long been linked to a reduced risk of premature death, with scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill now revealing that upping your daily step count could add years to your life.

The team analysed more than 16,000 women, average age 72, who wore step-counters every day for up to a week.

Results reveal those who walked around 4,500 steps a day across several short spurts – like when doing housework or taking the stairs – were less likely to die over the next six years.

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This comes after scientists from the University of Leicester revealed slow walkers are up to four times more likely to die with the coronavirus.

Florence, Italy - January 26, 2014: Close up of the new Fitbit Force on the wrist of a guy. Fitbit Force is the new sport fitness tracker that can allow to track your daily activity, calories burned, sleep & weight, and with that is it possible the upload wirelessly & see progress on mobile and online dashboard. The bracelet is showing the number of daily kms done. image taken outdoor.
Many people measure their step count via a Fitbit. (Stock, Getty Images)

Adults should exercise every day, with experts stressing the more the better, and anything is better than nothing.

Those of a working-age are advised to be moderately active for at least 150 minutes a week, which could include brisk walking, gentle cycling or even pushing a lawn mower.

If time-pressed, be vigorously active for 75 minutes via jogging, cycling briskly or skipping rope.

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Older adults are often advised to walk as much as possible, with the gentle exercise boosting heart health without overly damaging the joints.

Elderly people "face many barriers to participating in structured exercise programmes", said lead author Christopher Moore, a PhD student.

"Some may find it more convenient and enjoyable to increase everyday walking behaviours, like parking slightly further from their destination or doing some extra housework or yardwork", he added.

Many people measure their step count via a Fitbit or smartphone app, with 10,000 steps a day a common target. Nevertheless, experts have questioned whether this much-lauded figure holds any scientific weight.

To learn more, the North Carolina scientists analysed participants of the Women's Health Study, which ran from 2011 to 2015.

The women wore a step-counter across their waist every day for four to seven days.

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"In the past we were limited to only measuring activities people could recall on a questionnaire," said Moore.

"With the help of wearable devices, more research is indicating any type of movement is better than remaining sedentary."

Based on their step count, the women were divided into two groups: those who walked for at least 10 minutes a day with "few interruptions" and those who strolled in "short spurts during regular daily activities, such as housework, taking the stairs, or walking to or from a car".

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Around six years later, 804 of the women had died.

The results reveal those who took more steps in short bouts lived longer, regardless of whether they also walked for longer, interrupted periods of time. The benefits levelled off at around 4,500 steps, however.

This is not the first time a 4,500-step count has been linked to a reduced risk of premature death, however, it was unclear whether this had to be achieved in one session.

"Our results indicate this finding holds even for women who did not engage in any uninterrupted bouts of walking," said Moore.

Compared to the women who did not walk at all, every additional 1,000 steps a day was linked to a 28% reduced risk of death over the study's follow-up period.

In addition, taking more than 2,000 steps in uninterrupted bursts was found to cut the risk of death by nearly a third (32%).

The results were presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health conference and are yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal.

It is unclear whether the participants' walking speed influenced their life expectancy.

The scientists have stressed further research is required, with most of their study's participants being white. It is therefore unclear whether the same results apply to men, younger women and people of different ethnicities.

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