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Taking 8,600 steps a day will prevent weight gain in adults, while already overweight adults can halve their chances of becoming obese by adding an extra 2,400 steps – that’s 11,000 steps a day, according to new research.
Studies show that the average person gains between 1 and 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) each year from young adulthood to middle age, slowly leading to an unhealthy weight and even obesity over time.
“People can really reduce their risk of obesity by walking more,” said study author Dr. Evan Brittain, an associate professor in the division of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
The new study also found key benefits for chronic diseases and conditions: “Diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes, depression and GERD all showed benefit with higher steps,” Brittan said in an email.
“The association with hypertension and diabetes plateaus after about 8,000 to 9,000 steps, but the others are linear, meaning that higher steps continue to reduce risk,” he said. “I would say the take-home messages are that more steps are better.”
This is yet another study that illustrates the powerful impact that walking and other forms of exercise have on our health. In fact, if you get up and move for 21.43 minutes every day of the week, you reduce your risk of dying from any cause by a third, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Current physical activity recommendations for adults are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, dancing, cycling, doubles tennis and water aerobics, and two days of muscle strengthening activity each week.
“Physical activity is simply amazing,” Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and health at National Jewish Health in Denver, told CNN in an earlier interview.
“And when you combine that with eating a more plant-based diet, de-stressing, getting enough sleep and connecting with others — that’s your magic recipe,” Freeman said. “It’s the fountain of youth, if you will.”
The study analyzed an average of four years of activity and health data from more than 6,000 participants in the National Institutes of Health’s Research All of Us program, which is dedicated to exploring ways to develop personalized health care.
Participants in the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, wore activity trackers for at least 10 hours a day and allowed researchers to access their electronic health records for several years.
“Our study had an average of 4 years of continuous activity monitoring. Thus, we were able to account for the overall activity between the start of observation and the time of diagnosis of the disease, which is a great advantage because we did not have to make assumptions about the activity over time, unlike all previous studies,” said Brittan.
People in the study were aged 41 to 67 and had body mass index levels from 24.3, which is considered a healthy weight range, to 32.9, which is considered obese.
Researchers found that people who walked 4 miles a day — about 8,200 steps — were less likely to be obese or suffer from sleep apnea, acid reflux and major depressive disorder. Sleep apnea and acid reflux respond well to weight loss, which can reduce pressure on the throat and stomach, while exercise is a cornerstone of treating depression.
The study also found that overweight participants (those with a BMI of 25 to 29) halved their risk of obesity if they increased their steps to 11,000 steps per day. In fact, “this increase in step count resulted in a 50% reduction in the cumulative incidence of obesity after 5 years,” the study found.
Applying the data to a specific example, the authors say that people with a BMI of 28 could reduce their risk of obesity by 64% by increasing their steps from about 6,000 to 11,000 steps per day.
The new research echoes the results of a recent study in Spain, in which researchers found that the health benefits increased with each step until about 10,000 steps, when the effects began to fade. Step counting may be particularly important for people who do unstructured, unplanned physical activity such as housework, gardening and dog walking.
“Remarkably, we found an association between casual steps (steps taken for everyday life) and a lower risk of both cancer and heart disease,” study co-author Borja del Pozo Cruz told CNN in an earlier interview. Del Pozo Cruz is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense and a senior researcher in health sciences at the University of Cádiz in Spain.
The same research team recently published a similar study that found that walking 10,000 steps a day reduced the risk of dementia by 50%; the risk decreased by 25% with only 3,800 steps per day.
However, walking at a brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes maximized the risk reduction, leading to a 62% reduction in dementia risk. The 30 minutes of brisk walking also didn’t have to happen all at once – they could be spread throughout the day.
The researchers found that the relationship between peak 30-minute steps and risk reduction depended on the disease being studied: there was a 62% reduction in dementia, an 80% reduction in cardiovascular disease and death, and about a 20% drop in cancer risk.
The new study also found a link between step intensity and health benefits, “although the relationships were less consistent than for step count,” the researchers said.
A major limitation of all studies using step trackers is that people who wear them tend to be more active and healthier than the norm, the researchers said. “However, the fact that we were able to find robust associations between steps and incident disease in this active sample suggests that even stronger associations may exist in a more sedentary population,” they said.