Does the amount we move reduce our risk of death? That’s a simple question that many studies have ventured to answer. A recent bit of research may make you glad you got a Fitbit for Christmas. Let’s dig in.
What Is All-Cause Mortality?
Researchers will typically use a metric that they describe as “all-cause mortality”. That means the risk of death due to any cause such as heart disease or diabetes. They then use a reduction in this rate when looking at the efficacy of various interventions like medications or exercise.
Prior Blogs on this Topic
Through the years I’ve blogged on many studies that discuss movement, exercise, and the risk of dying. For example, in one study, it was never too late to begin exercising as those who took it up in middle age had the same protection as those who started when they were young. Another research investigation showed that just 30 minutes or more of exercise 3-5 times a week, decreased all-cause mortality by 46%. Finally, we also know that you can overdo it. In one recent investigation, exercising intensely for 10 or more hours a week actually increased all-cause mortality.
In the past decade, we’ve all seen the rise of ubiquitous smart watches and other devices that measure our activity as a step count. You may get one of these devices for Christmas. So how many steps are optimal? For example, how many should you be tracking per day to make sure you reduce your own all-cause mortality?
The New Research
Recently US researchers looked at more than two thousand adults aged 38-50 years for almost 11 years as part of a large government-funded heart study. They measured step counts using an accelerometer from 2005-6 and then followed these patients forward in time.
The authors looked at low (<7000 steps/d), moderate (7000-9999 steps/d), and high (≥10 000 steps/d), and stepping intensity. They found that for those walking more than 7,000 steps per day, there was a massive 50-70% lower risk of all-cause mortality during the study period.
Comparing this Risk Reduction
For many Americans, movement as a risk reduction strategy is secondary to taking the right pills. So how much reduction in the risk of dying is associated with various drugs?
- Cholesterol drugs reduce mortality by a measly 2% over 5-years
- High blood pressure medications reduced the risk of dying by 13%
So the risk reduction that comes with making sure your smartwatch is clocking more than 7,000 steps a day blows away any common medication you could take.
The Three Best Ways to Reduce the Risk of Premature Death
After reviewing this research for decades, here’s what I’ve gleaned:
- Exercise! If you can’t exercise because you hurt, then get treated without surgery to reduce your pain and increase your function. We can help you there.
- Avoid becoming a type 2 diabetic! Many Americans are pre-diabetic or become a type 2 diabetic in middle age. Make sure you eat a low glycemic diet and work out so that this doesn’t happen to you. You want your HbA1C (a measure of blood sugar control) to be normal and below 5.6.
- Pay attention to your body! Meaning if weird stuff begins to happen, don’t ignore it and get it checked out. For example, if your stools change, you could have an early colon cancer lesion. Catching that lesion early is a quick fix, treating it later could mean an early death! As a corollary, keep up on all of the maintenance and screening for various cancers.
The upshot? At the end of the day, the best medicine you can use to reduce your risk of dying is to move. So if you get yet another smartwatch or Fitbit for Christmas, you may actually want to use it to make sure that you’re always over that magic 7,000 steps a day!