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4000 steps a day keeps heart disease away

New Delhi, Dec. 19: Walking an extra 4,000 steps, or 40 minutes, a day appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as a daily cholesterol-lowering pill without the side-effects, a new global study released today has suggested.

The study, one of the largest to investigate the impacts of physical exercise on the risk of heart disease, has shown that every additional 2,000 steps each day over one year reduces the risk of heart attack or strokes by about eight per cent.

The effects were demonstrated in people with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), a precursor to diabetes, but medical experts say the results can be broadly generalised to any population at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study did not cover people in India, but the results are likely to be relevant to India where surveys have indicated that 14 per cent of adults may be suffering from IGT, a condition that eventually leads to diabetes which itself is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. “This study is the first to quantify the magnitude of the benefit that can be expected through simply increasing the number of steps people take every day,” Thomas Yates, senior lecturer at the University of Leicester in the UK and lead author of the study told The Telegraph.

The findings will appear in The Lancet, a medical journal, tomorrow.

Several earlier studies have established the protective effects of physical activity against cardiovascular disease.

The new study suggests that about 4,000 additional steps, or about 40 minutes of extra walking through the day, has the same impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease as taking a stain, or cholesterol-lowering drugs often prescribed to people with high levels of lipids and at risk of heart attacks of strokes.

Statins, Yates said, have been shown earlier to reduce cardiovascular risk by about 20 per cent which, according to the new study, could be achieved through 4,000 steps. “Physical activity is also associated with other benefits — from reduced depression to improved musculoskeletal health,” Yates said.

The researchers tracked 9,306 patients with IGT from 40 countries over a two-year period, documenting their physical activity, risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease, and using statistical methods to test the relationship between steps taken and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

At the start of the study, the scientists observed a 10 per cent difference in the risk of cardiovasular disease for every 2,000 steps per day difference in walking activity.

The risk of cardiovascular activity also reduced by eight per cent for every 2000 additional steps taken per day.

“This is the largest study to observe the imapct of change in activity over time,” Yates said. The benefits were seen among all sets of people, regardless of bodyweight at the start of the study, providing what the researcher said is novel evidence for how physical activity can protect people.

“We believe this study adds compelling and reassuring evidence for the benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular health,” Giuseppe Pugliese and Stefano Balducci from La Sapienza University in Rome said in a commentary in the same issue of the journal.

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