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Why leading a healthy life is a walk in the park

A new study has found that you need to walk just 4,000 steps everyday to safeguard yourself against deadly diseases. The full picture is much more nuanced

Take a walk for a healthy life.
Take a walk for a healthy life. (Unsplash/Jad Limcaco)

When it comes to health and fitness, data is king. The other thing that’s big is people looking to put in the basic minimum effort in order to achieve the best possible health outcome. One prime example of these two trends coming together is the quest for the ideal step count for fitness. Getting in the mythical 10,000 steps every day is something a lot of people aspire to, and this is leading to plenty of scientific research into the subject. 

One such study, published on 9 August, showed that the optimal number of steps that might reduce your risk of death—other than road accidents, one of the leading causes of death in India—is just walking 3,967 steps a day.

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This meta-analysis of 17 cohort studies, covering 226,889 people with a median follow-up of 7 years, also found that the minimum number of steps required to decrease cardiovascular mortality was 2,337. The study, titled The Association Between Daily Step Count And All-Cause And Cardiovascular Mortality: A Meta-Analysis was published in the European Journal Of Preventive Cardiology journal. 

Researchers also found that for every 500 additional steps over the minimum step-count, health benefits increase: a 7% drop in cardiovascular mortality risk, and a 15% drop in risk of death from all causes for every additional 1,000 steps. And, no, the health benefits don’t start plateauing as the step count increases. “It is the first analysis that not only looked at age and sex but also regional differences based on the weather zones, and for the first time, it assesses the effect of up to 20,000 steps/day on outcomes,” say the authors of the study. More importantly, the study dispels the widely accepted belief that one needs to walk at least 10,000 steps to enjoy health benefits.

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The fact that health benefits keep increasing with the increase in step-count is a crucial finding. This is for two reasons. First of all, people don’t need to feel guilty for not being able to walk 10,000 steps every day. Secondly, the knowledge that the more one walks every day, the less the chances for cardiovascular diseases is be a powerful incentive to lead an active life.

Curefoods founder and co-founder Ankit Nagori, 37, makes it a point to clock about 15,000 steps a day. To do so, he says he constantly walks around his office while at work, and even while taking a phone call. Shakedeal co-founder Santosh Reddy, 39, runs a start-up which can be pretty demanding and time consuming, so he ensures he makes the extra effort to meet his goal of 10,000 steps every day. As you can see, their efforts (and others’) are entirely data-driven. So the more granular data supplied by the study should help even more people who would normally be daunted by the thought of 10,000 steps or bust. 

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So how does one meet a step-count goal. One of the easiest ways of doing so is by walking everyday. “Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking and jogging lead to weight loss, increase good cholesterol, and reduce bad cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Manish Hinduja, consultant for adult cardiac surgery and cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai. Bengaluru-based Crossfit coach Kaustav Baruah concurs, “Walking alone might not make you fit but it is definitely good for your health.”

The study also finds that the health benefits differ with age. For people aged sixty and above, a daily step-count of 6,000 and 10,000 leads to a death risk reduction of 42.3%. For those under sixty, a daily step-count of 7,000-13,000 leads to 48.7% risk reduction. Ultimately, the key takeaway from the study is that improving your health is literally a walk in the park.  

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness. 

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