March 24 (UPI) -- Higher step counts can extend life and improve overall health, a study published Tuesday by JAMA has revealed.
Researchers say that people with even moderately high step counts -- between 4,000 and 7,999 steps per day -- may be able to reduce their risk of death from heart disease or cancer by as much as two-thirds.
Those who take more than 12,000 steps daily can reduce their risk for death by nearly 90 percent, the study authors added.
"While we've known for a long time that physical activity is good for you, we have far less evidence on how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk, or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference," co-author Dr. Pedro Saint-Maurice, a postdoctoral fellow in the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, told UPI.
"As their health allows, adults should aim to move more and sit less throughout the day," he added. "We found that a greater number of steps per day is associated with lower mortality risk from all causes."
Walking 10,000 steps per day has been recommended as a fitness goal by a number of health experts, particularly for older adults. That equates to roughly two miles, depending on a number of variables, including an individual's height.
To date, however, there has been little clinical evidence supporting what some have referred to as an arbitrary number.
For the study, the NIH researchers analyzed data from 4,840 of American adults who were at least 40 years old, participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and wore an accelerometer -- or step counter -- for up to seven days. The mean age of participants was 56.8 years, and 36 percent were considered obese. Over 10 years of follow-up, 1,165 participants died, with 406 dying of cancer and 283 succumbing to heart disease.
In all, the mean number of steps per day among participants was 9,124. The authors found that among 655 participants who took fewer than 4,000 steps daily, there were 419 deaths, while 488 of 1,727 individuals who took 4,000 to 7,999 steps per day died during the study period.
Just 176 of the 1,539 people who took 8,000 to 11,999 steps daily died over the course of the study, while only 82 of 919 participants who took more than 12,000 steps per day died.
Overall, compared with those taking 4,000 steps per day, individuals who walked 8,000 steps daily were roughly 50 percent less likely to die.
"Our study suggests that people who are currently getting low levels of steps per day, around 4,000 or fewer, might gain benefit by working toward 8,000 steps per day," Saint-Maurice said. "And, people currently getting 8,000 steps per day may get additional benefit by aiming for 12,000 steps.
Saint-Maurice added that getting out and moving around is important even in these days in which "social distancing" is being recommended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that doing yard work and chores around the house can help build up large numbers of steps -- which is true regardless of a global pandemic.
"While more studies are needed to establish formal recommendations about the number of steps that someone should aim to get each day, we hope that this study, and future studies like it, can help people better understand the health implications of step counts as a metric for physical activity," Saint-Maurice said.