Exercise and Longevity in Women

By Mariam Malik ‘22

Hikers
Figure 1. Exercise has had a reputation of increasing energy levels and longevity, but long periods of exercise may not be needed.

Daily exercise has been proven to significantly reduce stress and increase happiness and longevity. It has been assumed that 10,000 steps per day were needed to feel these boosts in dopamine and energy, but a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine provides experimental evidence that the recommended number of steps to feel the positive effects of walking is actually fewer than we thought. 

In 2011, 16,741 U.S. women agreed to participate in wearing wearables, technological devices that track one’s physical activity and can be attached to the body. These were to be worn during waking hours until 2015. The group’s average age was 72, and each woman’s mean number of steps per day was calculated. For stepping intensity, various measures were used to determine a person’s natural strength in stepping in a free environment. Throughout the time period, researcher I-Min Lee and her colleagues gathered data on the participants’ health with an annual questionnaire. Variables like weight, height, smoking status, alcohol use, hypertension, and diabetes could all have an effect on a participant’s level of physical activity. 

The research team found that the group of women had an average of 5,499 steps per day. Women who took approximately 4,000 steps per day felt augmented energy levels and longevity, compared with those who took fewer. The benefits of walking also ceased after about 7,500 steps. After 7,500 steps, women who continued walking reported no increase in energy levels. The study highlights that light exercise may be much better for health than previously assumed and brings hope to older women who may not be capable of heavy exercise. 

Although the study provides insights on exercise and longevity in women, it cannot say the same for men, as no men were participants. Another possible future aspect of research would be to include other activities besides walking that also involve physical movement, such as swimming, hiking, or even biking. 

References:

  1. M. Lee, et al., Association of step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older woman. JAMA Intern Med, (2019). doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-friends-friendship-grass-591216/
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