March 19, 2024

What is the Daily Step Goal to Lower Elderly Heart Failure Risk?

Physical activity is crucial for maintaining health, especially as individuals age. The global prevalence of physical inactivity is concerning, with one in every four to five adults being inactive or not meeting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations [1]. This lack of activity, coupled with the natural aging process, significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases in older individuals who often have multiple health conditions.

General cardiologists emphasize the importance of incorporating physical activity into daily routines for older adults. Routine activities like self-care, cooking, and shopping, when combined with additional physical activity, contribute to overall well-being in the elderly.

A recent study from the University at Buffalo challenges the widely accepted notion that achieving 10,000 steps per day is necessary for optimal health in older adults. The study, conducted in 2020, revealed that older adults who engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week were 67% less likely to die from any cause compared to those who exercised less. Additionally, women aged 79, walking 2,100 to 4,500 steps daily, reduced their risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and heart failure, by up to 38%. Those walking more than 4,500 steps per day saw a 48% reduction in their risk [2].

A subsequent 2024 study published in JAMA Cardiology [3] focused on nearly 6,000 U.S. women aged 63-99. The findings indicated that an average of 3,600 steps per day at a normal pace was associated with a significant 26% lower risk of developing heart failure. The study utilized accelerometers to measure physical activity, offering more accurate insights into the relationship between daily steps and heart health.

The Women’s Health Initiative study, examining accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time, further supported the benefits of light and moderate-to-vigorous intensity activities in reducing the risk of heart failure. Spending 70 minutes per day in light-intensity activities and 30 minutes per day in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activities was associated with average reductions of 12% and 16%, respectively, in the risk of heart failure. Conversely, each additional hour-and-a-half of sedentary time was linked to a 17% higher risk of heart failure.

The 2024 study uniquely focused on two subtypes of heart failure, with consistent results for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). Older women engaging in higher amounts of daily light and moderate intensity activities demonstrated a lower risk of developing HFpEF, irrespective of demographic and clinical factors associated with heart failure risk. Accumulating 3,000 steps per day was suggested by cardiology specialists as a reasonable target for heart failure prevention in this population.

Wearable devices, such as accelerometers, were used in the study to monitor daily steps, making it easier for individuals to track their physical activity levels. The study found that the risk of heart failure, including HFpEF, significantly decreased at around 2,500 steps per day, with a 25-30% lower risk when standardized to 3,600 steps per day.

Interestingly, these findings challenge the commonly recommended goal of 10,000 steps per day for health and wellness. The study revealed that a more achievable average of 3,588 steps per day among women in the study, compared to the U.S. average of 2,340 steps for women of similar age, still resulted in a lower risk of heart failure. These findings hold significant implications, especially as the U.S. government reassesses physical activity guidelines for elders. 

Final Thoughts

The 2024 study conducted by cardiology specialists provides valuable insights into the relationship between daily steps and heart health in older women. The results indicate that a more achievable target of around 3,000 steps per day is associated with a considerable reduction in the risk of heart failure, including HFpEF. This information challenges the conventional wisdom of aiming for 10,000 steps per day, making it more practical for older adults to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives for improved cardiovascular health. For those seeking more information on heart health and prevention, connect with a general cardiologist at the Advanced Cardiovascular Center.