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Experts say walking is an important daily exercise for people over the age of 60. MoMo Productions/Getty Images
  • Researchers say older adults who walk between 6,000 and 9,000 steps per day have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • They added that daily walking did not reduce the risk of heart disease in younger adults.
  • Experts say walking can boost overall physical health as well as mental health.
  • They say playing golf as well as walking in the morning and evening are good ways to get in your daily steps.

Happy New Year. Go for a walk.

That’s the basic message from a new study that reports that older adults who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps a day have a 40% to 50% reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack or a stroke, compared to those who walk 2,000 steps per day.

The research comes from a team led by Amanda Paluch, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Paluch also leads an international consortium known as the Steps for Health Collaborative.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

“We found for adults over 60, there was a strikingly lower risk of a cardiovascular event or disease over an average follow-up of six years,” Paluch said in a statement. “When accumulating more steps per day, there was a progressively lower risk.”

Research by Paluch and the Steps for Health Collaborative in 2022 showed more movement, even below the often-referenced but unscientific threshold of 10,000 steps per day, was associated with longevity benefits.

That meta-analysis used data from 15 studies involving nearly 50,000 people from four continents, finding that walking between 6,000 and 8,000 steps per day was linked with a lower risk of death from all causes among older adults.

Paluch and her team then decided to examine the less-charted territory of steps per day and cardiovascular disease. They analyzed eight studies involving more than 20,000 people from the United States and 42 other countries.

They got similar results in terms of the most beneficial range of steps.

Paluch said the most important public health message from the study is to encourage the least-active older adults to take more steps.

“The people who are the least active have the most to gain,” Paluch said. “For those who are at 2,000 or 3,000 steps a day, doing a little bit more can mean a lot for their heart health. If you’re at 6,000 steps, getting to 7,000 and then to 8,000 also is beneficial, it’s just a smaller, incremental improvement.”

The latest analysis found no link between steps per day and cardiovascular risk in younger adults.

“This is because cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn’t come to fruition until we’re at older ages,” said Paluch, whose work was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “You’re not going to see many people develop cardiovascular disease after six years of follow-up in young to middle adulthood.”

Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, told Healthline the study is significant.

He said the research didn’t support the 10,000-step goal, which he said came from a marketing campaign in Japan.

“The greatest incremental benefit appears to be until 8,000 steps, after which the benefits are less pronounced,” he said. “In adults under 60 years old, there was an apparent small benefit to walking around 8,000 steps. However, the benefit was not significant.”

“Thus, step counts may not be as important in younger adults, and rather other exercise parameters such as exercise frequency and intensity may be more relevant,” Ni added. “Steps may be a helpful way to improve exercise, with a goal of 8,000 steps instead of 10,000 steps. More steps are generally better, so even if 8,000 steps is not possible, any amount above 3,000 steps is generally seen as beneficial.”

Erin Blakely is a licensed nursing home administrator specializing in gerontology. She’s also the founder of Senior Golf Source, a resource site for older people to stay fit through golf.

She told Healthline golf is a great way for seniors to get their steps in without thinking too much.

“As we age, our bodies tend to slow down and become less active,” Blakely said. “This leads to fragility and an increased risk of health-related issues. I would notice those that stayed active (i.e., walking) having much greater success for longevity.”

Blakely told Healthline one round of golf equals about 12,000 steps – about 2,500 if using a golf cart.

“For seniors looking for an enjoyable way to stay active while getting outside and socializing with peers, golfing is a great way to get in your steps,” Blakely said. “Not only does it provide gentle physical activity, but it also has many other benefits, such as increasing flexibility and balance while reducing stress levels from simply being out in nature.”

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City, told Healthline whatever the method, it’s the walking that counts.

“There are emotional and physical benefits of walking,” Romanoff said. “Specifically, when you wake up in the morning and start your day with a walk around the block – it will recalibrate your mind and prepare you for the day ahead. It’s a tangible reminder of the beauty, expansiveness, and people we live among and often breaks us out of a fixed mindset.”

Romanoff suggested walking as a healthy way to both start and end one’s day.

“This is one of the best habits to combat mental health struggles such as chronic anxiety and depression,” Romanoff said. “Similarly, walks at the end of the day help you unwind from the stress of the day and assist with the transition to sleep. Walking is ultimately a great reset button for the mind and body.”