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Many of us regularly wear an activity tracker, which counts the number of steps we take in a day. But should you only count the overall steps in a day or does the intensity of the exercise, like going for a brisk walk or run, make a difference? A new study presents some answers.

According to researchers, who looked at data from 78,500 people, every 2,000 additional steps a day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease and cancer by about 10 per cent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. It also reduced risk of dementia by up to 50 per cent, they found.

But for best results, they found, step rate is important. Participants who had the highest pace of walking (between 80 and 100 steps a minute) had better health outcomes than those at a slower pace. Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 per cent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer, and a 30 per cent lower risk of dementia, compared to those whose average pace was slower.

“It doesn’t even have to be a consecutive 30-minute session,” said Matthew Ahmadi, one of the study authors. “It can just be in brief bursts here and there throughout your day.” The important thing, they said, is just to walk faster than you normally do.

Context matters

However, experts have also cautioned that the pace of walking is relative. A brisk walk for one person may not be so for another. What matters is the relative effort. At a light exercise intensity, a person can sing a song, while at a moderate intensity, they can easily carry a conversation but would struggle to sing. At higher intensities, even conversation becomes difficult.

The studies, which were published in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology, used activity trackers to measure movement and output instead of self-reported data.

They tracked participants, who had an average age of 61, for seven full days, including nights. After collecting this data, researchers then tracked participants’ health outcomes, which included whether they developed heart disease, cancer, dementia or died during a period of six to eight years.

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