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Can 6,000 to 9,000 steps a day keep heart attacks at bay among older adults? Study says so

How many steps should you walk daily to keep heart attacks at bay, considering 10,000 steps are seen to be the golden mean in fitness conversations? A new study has shown that older adults, mostly over 60, may significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by walking between 6,000 and 9,000 steps per day. Published recently in the journal ‘Circulation’, it analysed data from over 20,000 people in the US and 42 other countries.

Lead author, Dr Amanda Paluch, from the University of Massachusetts, has said that for every 1000 steps added, there was an incremental reduction in CVD risk. The average age of subjects was 63 years with 52 per cent of the study group being women. Compared to people who walked 2,000 steps per day, researchers found that individuals walking between 6,000 and 9,000 steps daily had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, by 40 per cent to 50 per cent. Monitoring and promoting steps per day is a simple metric for clinician–patient communication and population health to reduce the risk of CVD, the researchers have said.

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“This study echoes the findings of several other large scale studies, which have shown that somewhere between 7,000-10,000 daily steps is ideal for general and cardiovascular health. These are not very difficult to achieve. If you are mindful and take conscious steps to increase your physical activity, such as using the staircase more, parking your car a little further away, running small errands on your own, you can meet your target effortlessly. You don’t need to target it from day one, but can build up gradually. Start by making an effort to increase by 500 steps daily for a week, and then a further 500, every week, till you hit your goal,” says Dr Aashish Contractor,Director, Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai.

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Dr K Srinath Reddy, honorary distinguished professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, feels this study reinforces the message that walking is beneficial for keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy, providing evidence that it works well for older people too. “A dose response relationship was shown, with increasing benefit as a person moves from 3000 steps to 9000 steps a day. While this is not a form of moderate or high intensity exercise, which trains the heart, walking over 6,000 steps a day can lower insulin resistance in muscles, benefiting heart and blood vessels while lowering inflammation. It can also keep blood pressure and body weight under control. There are other benefits too at older ages, like better balance and less falls, avoidance of constipation, more mental alertness and less risk of depression. Brisk walking, at around 100 steps per minute, is especially useful. The total count can be achieved over a day without straining oneself,” he says.

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According to Dr Ambuj Roy, Professor of Cardiology, AIIMS, New Delhi, “We can say that the study reaffirms the role of physical activity in protecting the heart and brain attacks. Any level of activity is beneficial and the benefit is incremental with increasing amount of activity till at least 15,000 steps a day. The amount of benefit seen with exercise is equivalent to established therapies like BP reduction medicines and statins and would be additive when both are prescribed. In fact previous studies have shown benefits of exercise beyond heart health and have shown to reduce incidence of diabetes, acid reflux, sleep apnea and depression,” he says.

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Dr Bhushan Bari, consultant cardiologist, says there is no overstating that physical activity has beneficial effects on heart health. “This study has special importance for people who are working from home and don’t find time to walk at all. Even a small increase of 1,000 to 2,000 steps can help a great deal. Effects are more pronounced in at-risk individuals like Diabetes, Hypertension and Dyslipidemia, “ he says. “There are innumerable studies that have shown that physical activities like walking and running are very helpful in preventing health hazards. The scientific reason behind this is any physical activity will increase the heart rate. A heart rate more than 100 during activity will increase the cardiac output and blood circulation. This will cause consumption of blood sugar and fat forming agents like triglycerides and cholesterol,” adds Dr Sanjeev Jadhav, heart lung transplant surgeon.

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