Counting steps may reduce risk of chronic diseases

Keeping track of steps throughout the day with a wearable activity tracker may help increase people’s daily steps, which can help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, according to a recent study.

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine and led by Hiral Master, PT, PhD, MPH, scientific project manager in the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research in Nashville, Tennessee. For their investigation, Master and his team set out to discover the value of including patients’ data from wearable activity trackers into the electronic health record (EHR) for physicians.

Researchers analyzed four years of activity and health data from over 6,000 participants, 73 percent female and 27 percent male, from the federal All of Us precision medicine research initiative. The participants ranged in age from 41 to 67, and had body mass indexes between 24.3, a healthy weight, and 32.9, which is considered obese. Each participant wore a wearable activity tracker for at least 10 hours a day and the data were added to their EHRs. Next, researchers calculated the incidence of various diseases in the activity tracker-wearing participants and compared it with the general population.

The results suggested that taking more that 8,200 steps a day, equivalent to four miles, can help prevent obesity, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and major depressive disorder. In addition, researchers estimated that overweight individuals can reduce their risk of becoming obese by 64 percent when they increase their daily steps from 6,000 to 11,000.

Although the risk for most conditions declined after the individuals increased their daily steps, the risk for diabetes and hypertension remained the same after participants reached 8,000 to 9,000 steps per day.

According to the study’s researchers, their results indicate strong associations between daily steps and disease risk. These findings suggest that personalized activity prescriptions using activity trackers may be an effective tool to help prevent chronic diseases. For future studies, the team hopes to analyze a more diverse, less active population.