The more an older man walks, the better his physical and mental health and his quality of life are likely to be, finds a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Although walking ranks among the favorite forms of physical activity for older adults, few studies have considered the specific impact of walking as opposed to overall physical activity, on health in older people.
"Men's health is becoming an increasing concern given their high rates of chronic diseases, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In particular, health behaviors of older men have not been studied very much," said the study's lead author Jeff Vallance, Ph.D., associate professor in the faculty of health disciplines at Athabasca University in Canada. He says that his team's study was among the first to look carefully at objective measures of walking and of health and quality of life among older men.
The researchers surveyed 385 men above age 55 living in Alberta, Canada. The majority (69 percent) were overweight, with 19 percent being obese. The men wore step pedometers for three consecutive days, including one weekend day, to measure walking activity.
"Many health promotion experts suggest that pedometers offer objective measurement of both activity and motivation," says Nanette Mutrie, Ph.D., a professor at the Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
The researchers divided the men into four groups based on the number of steps taken daily, ranging from lowest to highest. The men averaged 8,539 steps per day. "Older men who averaged the greatest number of steps per day reported more optimal quality of life profiles, in terms of both physical and mental health, than older men averaging fewer steps per day."
Mutrie pointed out that although higher step counts were associated with higher health-related quality of life, it is important for the public to realize that "these associations were noted even at modest step counts." She said that the new findings "add to the growing literature on the benefits of walking, the use of pedometers and the health benefits of modest amounts of daily activity that contribute to how we feel and how we function."
Walking 10,000 steps per day has become "a commonly recognized walking goal that is often promoted," noted the researchers. But in practical terms, Vallance says, "the majority of older men don't achieve 10,000 steps per day so that may not be a realistic target. It doesn't necessarily matter how many steps you are doing." The important thing, he says, is that older men continually strive to increase the amount of walking they do. "More steps are better," he says.