New Finding: Walking This Far Each Day Could Reduce Risk of Heart Failure

Updated: Apr. 01, 2024

Heart failure is a specific type of heart disease. New research from leading institutions reveals an accessible step goal that could walk this worry away.

Heart disease is a major health concern in the United States that claims one life every 33 seconds, according to national data from 2023. Among the various forms of heart disease, heart failure affects approximately 6.2 million Americans.

The Mayo Clinic explains that heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood efficiently. This can lead to complications such as fluid buildup in the lungs and shortness of breath that doctors may try to address with recommendations to lose weight, reduce sodium intake, and more.

Another approach, according to a recent study led by researchers at the University of Buffalo, is a sweet stroll—in particular for women over 60 who wish to reduce their risk of heart failure. In collaboration with scholars at other top institutions such as Stanford and Brown universities and the University of California San Diego, the research team found that the daily steps needed to lower heart failure risk may be far fewer than the widely recommended 10,000 steps.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Cardiology in February 2024, the study suggests a more achievable daily step count could be the key to improving heart health among mature women.

A closer look at the study

The research focused on nearly 6,000 women across the United States, ranging in age from 63 to 99. To gauge their daily activity levels, each participant was equipped for up to a week with a hip-mounted accelerometer (which measures speed through motion).

On average, these women logged about 3,600 steps each day.

Then, over the course of an average follow-up period of 7.5 years, the research team observed more than 400 instances of heart failure among the participants.

Their activity levels ranged from light—such as household duties and caregiving—to more vigorous, like walking briskly, taking the stairs, or gardening.

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Unique findings

The analysis brought to light some compelling connections between daily activity and heart health. Remarkably, simply walking 3,600 steps a day at a regular pace was tied to a 26% decreased chance of heart failure.

Even more, dedicating just 70 minutes a day to light-intensity activities or 30 minutes to actions of moderate-to-vigorous intensity was associated with a reduction in heart failure risk by 12% and 16%, respectively.

On the flip side, every 90 minutes of staying inactive correlated with a 17% increased risk of heart failure.

What sets this research apart is its detailed exploration of heart failure subtypes, especially heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). In HFpEF, the heart pumps normally, but the ventricles fail to relax properly. This diminishes blood flow. This condition predominantly affects older women and individuals from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, as pointed out in a press release by the study’s lead investigator, Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH.

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Stepping off heart failure risk

For US women within this age range, the current average step count stands at 2,340 steps daily.

Speak with your doctor about what’s right for you, but Dr. LaMonte recommends setting a daily step target of approximately 3,000 as a realistic and beneficial goal, based on the study’s findings. Some sources calculate this step count at 1.5 miles. If farther feels just as good, see whether your doctor recommends even a little more—and to avoid lower back and other pain from walking, don’t forget to try out the best walking stretches.

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