500 Extra Steps Linked to Lower Heart Risk

Older adults are often advised to walk 10,000 steps a day to stay active and help prevent chronic illness.  But for seniors who have been sedentary or struggle to walk long distances, this goal can be daunting.  However, new research shows that walking just 500 extra steps per day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and heart failure.  

As reported by the American Heart Association, a new study of people over 70 found that walking an additional 500 steps, or a quarter of a mile, each day was linked with a 14 percent reduced risk of heart disease, stroke or heart failure.  Compared with older adults who took less than 2,000 steps daily, study participants who took 4,500 steps each day had a 77 percent lower observed risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event. 

Researchers analyzed health data from 452 study participants who used accelerometer devices, worn at the hip, to measure their daily steps.  Participants were an average age of 78 – 59 percent were women, and 20 percent were Black adults (70 percent were women, and 30 percent were men). 

Participants wore the devices for three or more days, for 10 or more hours and the follow-up period was 3.5 years in which 7.5 percent of the participants experienced a cardiovascular event.  The average step count was 3,500 steps per day.   Nearly 12 percent of older adults who took less than 2,000 steps per day had a cardiovascular event such as heart disease, stroke or heart failure.  For each additional 500 steps taken per day, data showed a 14 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 

The Takeaway

Regular physical activity is essential to help seniors stay independent and help prevent chronic illness and disability.  By engaging in small increases in activity, older adults can reduce their cardiovascular risk and enjoy a more active lifestyle.  Gradually increasing steps over time, starting by adding 500 steps each day, can be a more achievable and sustainable goal for seniors over 70.  

In addition to increasing physical activity, the Heart Association encourages adults to eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, get adequate sleep, maintain a healthy weight and control high cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Other activities such as swimming, dancing, rowing, or bicycling may also help protect heart health. 

More research is needed to establish if higher step counts prevent or delay cardiovascular disease or if lower step counts could be an indicator of underlying illness in older adults. If you are new to a walking routine, start slowly and increase intensity and distance gradually over time to avoid injuries.  Aim to increase walking distance and speed by no more than 10 percent a week.