The results come from a study of real data collected from the wearable devices of 6,042 people in the US – and it seems that taking more steps each day can actually reduce the risk of certain types of diseases.
Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and sleep apnea are some of the health issues that can be avoided by increasing the number and intensity of your daily steps, according to the findings of this latest study.
While previous studies have reached similar conclusions, this is the first research based on commercial activity trackers, commonly used as part of everyday life, and linked to electronic health records (EHRs), in this case as part of the All Research Program of Us of the US National Institutes of Health.
These data provide “new, empirical evidence for activity levels associated with chronic disease risk and suggest that integrating commercial mobile device data into the EHR may be valuable in supporting clinical care,” the researchers write in their published paper .
An average of four years of activity per participant was recorded, with the sample based on people who wore their Fitbit for 10 or more hours a day for at least six months.
Daily counts and step intensity (defined as steps per minute) were then reported against disease incidence within the group and compared with disease rates in the general population.
The results showed that as steps increased, the risk of most conditions decreased. The exception was for hypertension and diabetes – in these two cases, when people reached about 8,000 to 9,000 steps a day, the benefit of adding more steps increased.
Around 8,200 steps and above appears to be the sweet spot for severely reducing the risk of conditions such as obesity, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and major depressive disorder.
The researchers also found that overweight people who increased their daily steps from 6,000 to 11,000 were 64 percent less likely to become obese than those who maintained the same daily number of steps.
Although these statistics do not show a direct cause-and-effect relationship (there are also many other factors involved), the correlation is strong enough to indicate that taking more steps each day and increasing the intensity at a faster pace can reduce the risk of disease.
Previous studies tracked physical activity over short periods of time using research-grade devices and looked at health outcomes years or even decades later, while this new research was able to analyze years of activity data collected daily from the patients’ own wearable devices and linked to current diagnostic files.
“Although some fidelity is lost between research devices and commercial devices, data from the latter are highly generalizable to a large portion of the public that owns such devices,” the researchers write.
That said, the people in the study were relatively young, mostly white, female and college students, who had Fitbit devices and were, on average, more active than most adults. But the study authors see this as a positive.
“The fact that we were able to detect strong associations between steps and incident disease in this active sample suggests that there may be even stronger associations in a more sedentary population.”
They are now willing to do more research using larger and more diverse samples of people, including those with activity levels more reflective of the general population,
Based on previous studies, there is a consensus that taking several thousand steps a day is enough to help you live longer – and even random and sporadic bursts of activity can be beneficial, as can planned and consistent walking.
The researchers behind the new study believe that daily step routines could be included as part of personalized health plans, with consumer wearables and their associated apps good enough to provide 24-hour monitoring.
“Although validation in a more diverse sample is needed, these findings provide a real-world database for clinical guidance on activity levels necessary to reduce disease risk,” the researchers write.
The research has been published in Nature Medicine.