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How fast you walk could be just as important for good health as the amount of steps you take each day, according to new research.

The studies, published in journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology, monitored 78,500 UK adults aged between 40 and 79 with wearable trackers – to track step count in relation to health outcomes.

Participants wore a wrist accelerometer to measure physical activity over a period of seven days (minimum three days, including a weekend day and monitoring during sleep periods). The information was then linked with participants’ health records through several data sources and registries including inpatient hospital, primary care records, and cancer and death registries.

The researchers from the University of Sydney and University of Southern Denmark found lowered risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death are associated with achieving 10,000 steps a day. However, a faster pace, like a power walk, showed benefits over and beyond the number of steps achieved.

The study found every 2,000 steps lowered risk of premature death incrementally by 8-11%, up to about 10,000 steps per day, while similar links were seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer.

About 9,800 steps was the optimal amount linked to a lower risk of dementia by 50%, however, the risk was reduced by 25% with as low as 3,800 steps per day. Stepping intensity, or a faster pace, showed benefits for all outcomes (dementia, heart disease, cancer and death) over total daily steps.

“The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster,” said co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles

“Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps,” said senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Population Health at the University of Sydney.

“Findings from these studies could inform the first formal step-based physical activity guidelines and help develop effective public health programs aimed at preventing chronic disease.”

Read the full study here