Stepping up to health

Good news! Those who to date have struggled to reach the magic goal of ten thousand steps a day can now gain some comfort from a study which revealed that even four thousand steps can make a difference. The study, which was published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, aimed to build on previous studies which had established the link between inactivity and ill health, in particular heart disease. This study looked to take knowledge one step further and identify the relationship between daily step count and all-cause mortality and cardio-vascular mortality.

However, we ditch our step counters and sit down for a rest the study does come with a sting in the tail. Although 2,337 steps per day have been revealed to be the cut off for cardio-vascular mortality and 3,967 steps for all-cause mortality, these are only the baseline figures. Above those figures the study reveals that there is a 15% reduction in the chance of early death for every additional thousand steps, up to twenty-thousand per day. So the fewer steps we walk, the more we are playing with our longevity chances.

The dangers of physical inactivity have been highlighted by the World Health Organisation which cites inactivity as the fourth leading cause of early deaths worldwide; accounting for some 3.2 million deaths per year. Little wonder then that one of the study’s authors, Prof Maciej Banach from Lodz University commented that whilst drug and other treatments have advanced, he believes we should: “always emphasise that lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which was a main hero of our analysis, might be at least as, or even more, effective in reducing cardiovascular risk and prolonging lives.”

It’s an area in which as health professionals we can all play our part. From physiotherapists helping people to regain mobility as swiftly as possible following injury or operations to health and social workers actively finding a way for people to move out of bed blocking and into a more active community setting; the more that people can be helped and encouraged to increase their step count, the better the outcome. For a stretched health service that extra push towards mobility means finding ways to work smarter rather than harder, to increase patient interactions without having to increase working hours.

Technology may provide some of the answers. From online appointment systems to SMS appointment reminders and from digitising patient notes to outsourcing routine enquiries; every time that we can harness technology to reduce administration time brings the chance to smooth out the working day and enhance patient interactions.

We have to acknowledge that ten thousand steps may be beyond some individuals no matter how much medical intervention they get. But if we can help even a little then that could make a measurable difference. After all, even a walk to the toilet or to the kitchen to make a cup of tea could contribute to the lower target of 2,337 steps which according to the new study marks the boundary between inactivity and beneficial exercise.