Study: When it comes to moving more for a healthy heart, tracking daily steps can count

A person walks on a path in tennis shoes.

Regular physical activity supports a range of health benefits, including reducing risks for heart disease, and a new study found that women who engaged in the most activity, measured by moderate-to-vigorous exercise or by tracking their daily steps, had similar reduced associated risks for premature death and heart disease. The findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine

For this research, more than 14,000 women ages 62 and older wore a hip-based physical activity tracker for one week and were followed for up to nine years. Throughout this period, 9% of women passed away. Approximately 4% experienced a heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular-related death. Women who participated in the most physical activity, such as getting a 30-minute brisk walk most days of the week, which counts as moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, or who logged around 7,000 steps each day, had comparable associated health benefits. This included having about a one-third reduced associated risk for premature death or developing cardiovascular disease compared to women who were the least active. 

The authors note that quantifying movement with daily steps instead of focusing solely on minutes provides another option for women ages 62 and older to measure physical activity — and could help more people become physically active. This research, which is part of a Women’s Health Initiative follow-up study, was supported by NHLBI and the National Cancer Institute.