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Research suggests that walking more than 6,000 steps per day can significantly cut the risk of cardiovascular disease for older adults. Kristin Duvall/Stocksy
  • A recent study finds that walking between 6,000 and 9,000 steps daily is linked to a dramatically lower risk of cardiovascular disease for older adults.
  • Each additional 1,000 steps taken daily, especially for people who currently walk less than 3,000 steps a day, marks a substantial reduction in cardiovascular risk.
  • The study analyzed data from over 20,000 people in the United States and 42 other countries.
  • Experts say that it is not difficult to track one’s daily step counts even without a fitness tracking device.

A new study suggests that people over 60 may significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by walking between 6,000 and 9,000 steps per day.

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% to 50%.

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This study focuses on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. It is a companion to an earlier study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. The earlier study demonstrated that walking 8,200 steps a day can lower the risk of a wide range of chronic health issues.

The new study reports the findings of a meta-analysis of eight prospective studies using health data from 20,152 individuals in the United States and 42 other countries. Their average age was 63.2 years, plus or minus 12.4 years, with 52% being women.

The study appears in the journal Circulation.

Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist and kinesiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who leads the Steps for Health Collaborative. Dr. Paluch said people who currently walk between 2,000 and 3,000 steps a day would experience the most significant reduction in CVD risk by walking more.

For those already taking 7,000 steps a day, the improvement would be less dramatic, though still significant, Dr. Paluch noted.

The study found that for every 1,000 steps added, there was an incremental reduction in CVD risk.

Dr. Paluch told MNT:

“There was no upper limit at which there was no additional benefit in our study. Each incremental increase was associated with lower heart disease risk in older adults.”

The analysis saw a progressive reduction in CVD risk for people walking as many as 15,000 steps a day. Since the original studies went no higher than that, Dr. Paluch said that her analysis offers no insights regarding the possible benefits of taking more than 15,000 steps a day.

The study suggests that people hoping to lower their risk of CVD may consider setting goals that feel more attainable than the often-cited 10,000-steps-a-day target, which was not based on scientific research. It was originally promoted as part of a 1964 product marketing campaign.

While it is true that the more steps, the better – the most important thing is to increase one’s step count.

The study found no association between increasing one’s steps and lowering CVD risk for younger adults.

Dr. Paluch said this is not surprising since CVD is largely a disease of older people. The study reports just 4.2% of younger adults had subsequent CVD events, as opposed to 9.5% of older adults.

This does not mean that younger adults shouldn’t be exercising for their cardiovascular health, said Dr. Paluch:

“For younger adults, being physically active benefits many of the precursors of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions are more likely to develop in younger adults, and are important for early prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

Cardiologist Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, was not involved in the study.

“Steps alone should not be used to gauge how much exercise is enough,” Dr. Ni told MNT.

“Ideally, exercise should be intentional and daily, with at least moderate intensity,” he said. “Younger adults should also focus on incorporating unintentional exercise into their daily activity, such as taking the stairs over the elevator, walking in preference to driving, [and] more physically active recreation.”

“I do encourage older adults to obtain a step-tracker device,” said Dr. Ni, “since these are now extremely easy to obtain for minimal to no cost. Pedometers and step meters are often provided by health insurance companies and Medicare Advantage plans to encourage exercise.”

“Step-trackers can be a great way to monitor and inspire you to reach your next step goals,” Dr. Paluch noted.

Dr. Ni added that many smartphones have built-in step-trackers, so people may find they already own one.

However, there are other ways to count one’s steps, said Dr. Paluch. For example, a half mile is about 1,000 steps.

You can also gauge your steps according to the duration of your walk. Brisk walking, considered a moderate-intensity activity, comes to about 100 steps per minute. The study found no additional reduction in CVD risk from walking faster than this.