It’s Not 10,000 Steps: New Walking Research Says There’s a Magic Number to Reduce Heart Failure Risk

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New research challenges the 10,000-step goal for optimal health — particularly for older women. It found a 26 percent lower risk of heart failure with every 3,600 steps per day.

A new study from the University at Buffalo has revealed that for individuals over age 60, walking approximately 3,600 steps daily may significantly reduce the risk of heart failure by up to 26 percent. This research, which diverges from the widely cited goal of 10,000 steps per day, was conducted on nearly 6,000 U.S. women aged between 63 and 99.

Published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, the study highlights the importance of achievable physical activity targets for senior women, particularly in preventing heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), a common condition with limited treatment options.

Walking in the snow.
Courtesy Paul Green

The study’s lead author, Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, research professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, emphasized the significance of the findings. “In ambulatory older women, higher amounts of usual daily light and moderate intensity activities were associated with lower risk of developing heart failure with preserved ejection fraction independent of demographic and clinical factors associated with heart failure risk,” LaMonte said. He suggested that aiming for 3,000 steps per day could be a practical goal aligning with the daily activity levels observed in the study’s participants.

Participants in the study wore accelerometers to accurately measure their physical activity levels, including light daily activities and moderate-to-vigorous activities such as walking at a normal pace or doing yard work. This method allowed the researchers to assess the impact of different intensities of physical activity on heart failure risk, a novel approach in studying HFpEF.

The magic number: 3,600 steps per day

The research team discovered that the risk of heart failure, including HFpEF, was significantly lower at around 2,500 steps per day, with risks decreasing further at the standardized measure of 3,600 steps per day. These findings challenge the conventional 10,000-step goal, suggesting a lower and more attainable target may be just as beneficial for older adults, particularly women.

LaMonte highlighted the uniqueness of the study in focusing on HFpEF and the potential for daily light intensity activities to play a crucial role in preventing this condition in older women. “This is a major, unique finding of our study because there is very little published data on physical activity and HFpEF, so we are providing new information upon which other studies can build,” he explained.

Walking across the street.
Photo courtesy Tyler Nix

Moreover, the study contributes to ongoing discussions about physical activity guidelines for older adults, indicating that steps per day is a simple, measurable goal that can encourage more people to monitor and increase their physical activity levels. This is particularly relevant as the U.S. government examines its physical activity guidelines for the aging Baby Boomer and Gen X populations, with the study’s results poised to inform future public health recommendations.

The collaboration included researchers from the University of California San Diego, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Stanford University, and Brown University, underscoring the comprehensive and collaborative nature of this impactful research.

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