Across the country the vast majority of New Zealanders are stuck at home, trying to stay healthy by distancing ourselves – cutting off the spread of a tiny virus that's wreaking havoc across the world. It's understandable in times like these that the biscuit tin can seem to become very close – and the temptation to stay on the couch and binge watch a whole series of something very strong.
Many of us have given up our exercise routines and are living much more sedentary lives – primarily in front of our technology devices – than we were before. While it's critically important to focus on stopping transmission of the virus in the short term, we should also do our best to get off the couch and get some exercise - an investment in our long-term health.
Believe it or not, simply walking is probably the easiest way to do this. Most of us can do it, it's free, and doesn't require special equipment or too much space. We can either walk around the house, or venture around the block (paying attention of course to proper practice under Level 4 lockdown).
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How much walking we should do has been a subject of debate for a very long time. When asked how many steps we should take a day, most of us will know the number 10,000. Interestingly, while this has long been highly promoted as the daily goal (and is a great target!), the evidence behind this number is relatively limited.
This week, new research published in the journal JAMA shows that walking 8,000 steps a day could significantly reduce our risk of dying prematurely. The great news is that they found that the speed at which we take these steps seems irrelevant. In a 'locked-down' world then – i.e. where we have lots of time on our hands - it might help to fill it with some long strolls around the house!
The research looked at almost 5000 men and women aged 40 or over who had worn a step counter monitor and uploaded the data as part of a larger study. They then analysed the data from these volunteers, looking at both many daily steps they took as well as how many steps per minute they accumulated. They then correlated this data with the national death registry and connected those volunteers who had passed away over the last decade with their activity levels.
The research found clear trends in the data to show that the volunteers who took extra steps every day had a significantly reduced risk of dying early from heart disease and cancer. This was expected as the connection between increased activity and increased health outcomes is well known. What wasn't expected is that the speed of these steps didn't matter. While we might have assumed that super fit runners would have topped the charts in health, the data showed that the tortoise is just as much of a winner as the hare as long as the race is the same distance.
The study found that people who averaged 12,000 steps per day were 65 percent less likely to have died by the end of the study from diseases including heart disease and cancer than those who walked a total of 4000 or fewer steps a day. If 12,000 sounds like too much to achieve in lockdown, it might be reassuring to know that those who took just 8000 steps a day were still half as likely to die than the 4000 or less group.
The research is clear - while we are all on this mission to stop the spread of the virus, it's also worth investing in our long term health for the world after lockdown. All you need to do is add 'walking around the living room' to your stay-at-home diary.