For older adults, every step counts

2019

Challenge

Physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including lower mortality rates. The number of steps taken each day is an easy way to gauge physical activity, especially with the increased use of smart devices and fitness trackers. While the target for good health is frequently suggested to be 10,000 steps per day, there is only limited research on whether this is a suitable goal for older adults. Furthermore, it is unknown whether a higher stepping speed adds additional health benefit.

Advance

IRP researchers and their external collaborators found that taking more steps per day was associated with lower mortality rates in a group of 16,741 American women over the age of 62. In the study, taking 7,500 steps per day was associated with about a 65 percent reduction in premature mortality, but more steps beyond that did not further lower death rates. The study also found that some steps, even if not meeting the recommended amount, is better than none. Finally, a faster stepping speed did not reduce mortality rates after accounting for total steps taken per day.

Impact

The research could be used to craft a public health recommendation for older women to hit a target of at least 7,500 steps per day. Moreover, because taking some steps each day provides health benefits and the number of steps per day is more important than walking speed, the research provides the scientific basis for a simple message that ‘every step counts.’

Publications

Lee IM, Shiroma EJ, Kamada M, Bassett DR, Matthews CE, Buring JE. (2019). Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Intern Med. May 29;179(8):1105-1112.