Study | Walking Lowers Heart Disease Risk


A woman walks on a road | Image by lzf/Shutterstock

Sticking to those exercise goals may be challenging, but a recent study shows how vital a daily walking routine is — especially for the elderly.

A recent meta-analysis reported that older Americans who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps per day (3 to 4 miles) cut their risk of stroke and heart attack in half (40-50%).

The meta-analysis, published in Circulation, compiled data from eight different studies with 20,152 total participants.

Although the data reported that younger adults walked more than adults over age 60, those who kept walking throughout the later stages of adulthood lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is the leading cause of death globally.

Keeping a daily step count of at least 6,000 had no discernible effect on the risk of cardiovascular disease for younger study participants. However, the researchers suggest that this is at least in part because cardiovascular disease “is a disease of aging.”

However, it is also a disease of obesity. Heart disease particularly affects those within Dallas County where obesity rates are high, creating a drag on local public health spending.

According to data from the CDC, 30% of Dallas residents suffer from chronic hypertension and 435 out of every 100,000 deaths are due to heart disease.

Heart disease is strongly associated with obesity because the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. This not only strains the heart but also can lead to plaque buildup along the arteries that can restrict blood flow further.

If the plaque along the arteries suddenly ruptures, it forms a blood clot which may cause a stroke if it reaches the brain or a pulmonary embolism if it reaches the lungs.

A daily walking routine has benefits beyond lowering the risk of heart disease, obesity, and stroke. For instance, walking may add years to your life, improve physical fitness, and even boost brain function.

While 3 to 5 miles of walking may seem like a lofty goal for some, another meta-analysis showed that every step counts. The study found that increasing a daily step count by 1,000 lowered all-cause mortality risk by 22%.

The meta-analysis was led by Dr. Maciej Banach, founder and president of the Polish Lipid Association.

“The message is you don’t need to walk a lot to get large benefits. Walking just 1,000 extra steps a day can be very important. Obviously the more, the better,” said Banach.

Consistency is also imperative if you want to improve your health through walking.

“It’s so easy. But the important thing is you can’t just do it for one week or one month. You should be trying to walk every day for the rest of your life,” he continued.

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