For non-exercising people, the number of steps walked is more strongly associated with health than time spent walking

J Sci Med Sport. 2013 May;16(3):227-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2012.10.005. Epub 2012 Nov 13.


Objective: This study examined the associations between walking (number of steps and minutes spent) and seven health indicators, including chronic health conditions, depressive symptoms, and blood pressure, among nonexercising people who did not regularly engage in any non-walking moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in Hong Kong.

Design: Under the FAMILY project, the number of steps per day and minutes spent walking were measured using an accelerometer. Participants (n=2417) whose only form of physical activity was walking were included in the present analysis.

Methods: Three indicators of walking (number of steps, minutes spent walking at moderate intensity, and minutes spent walking at light intensity) was measured by accelerometer. Associations between these indicators and seven health conditions were measured by the difference in z scores for those with, and those without, each health condition, adjusted for age and sex.

Results: The number of steps per day was significantly and inversely associated with hypertension (difference in z=-0.22, p<0.01), cancer (difference in z=-0.43, p<0.05), stroke (difference in z=-0.63, p<0.01), depressive symptoms (difference in z=-0.15, p<0.01), health-related quality-of-life (difference in z=-0.13, p<0.05), and pulse rate (difference in z=-0.11, p<0.01). By contrast, time spent walking as measured by accelerometer was associated only with a single health indicator (hypertension, difference in z=-0.14, p<0.05).

Conclusions: Even among non-exercising people, accumulating number of steps appears to be related to fewer health problems and should be promoted as an accessible form of exercise, especially for those who lack the time or ability to engage in physical activity of at least moderate intensity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Walking / physiology*