They then grouped people by activity, using 4,000-step increments (since that number allowed the most meaningful comparisons), checked the national death registry for participants who had passed away during the past decade and, finally, compared peoples’ movement patterns and mortality.
The results were interesting and somewhat surprising, Dr. Matthews says. The researchers had expected both the number and intensity of steps to be linked to longevity, he says. But after controlling for gender, age, smoking, body mass index, diet and multiple other factors, only step counts were linked to mortality risk. Step intensity was not.
More specifically, people who averaged about 8,000 steps a day were about half as likely to have died from heart disease, cancer or any other cause as people accumulating 4,000 steps or fewer, while men and women completing at least 12,000 daily steps were 65 percent less likely to have passed away than those in the 4,000-or-less group.
But the researchers found no significant associations between the speed of people’s steps and mortality. “We didn’t see any extra benefit from intensity,” Dr. Matthews says.
This study was observational, though, looking at people’s lives at only one moment. So, it cannot tell us whether taking more steps caused people to live longer, only that the two were associated with each other. The activity monitors also did not track sports like cycling or swimming that do not involve steps.
Still, the message of the data seems clear. Try to move, Dr. Matthews says, in some way, throughout the day, even if slowly or in snatches, and whether or not you can formally exercise. Use your phone or smartwatch to give you a sense of how many steps you are taking, and, should that total be low, especially if it is below 4,000 a day, consider walking around the block, if local regulations and your inclinations allow, or circuit your living room a time or two.