Chronic Condition Management, Foundational Health Behaviors, Health Outcomes, Health Systems, Researchers, Success Stories | By | 11/07/22 | 3 Minute Read

All of Us Research: Increased Step Counts Associated with Lower Rates of Chronic Conditions

Great news for those who enjoy walking: increasing daily step counts doesn’t just improve people’s fitness — it can also reduce their risk of chronic disease. A new study from the All of Us Research Program, an initiative by the National Institutes of Health, reveals a direct connection between daily physical activity and lower rates of several chronic illnesses.

The study is one of the largest and longest of its kind. Researchers were able to monitor the Fitbit data of more than 6,000 participants for a median of four years. That duration helped researchers determine that higher daily step counts were associated with not only lower rates, but also the time-to-event of many chronic diseases. 

Understanding the role of physical activity 

The fact that physical activity can improve health isn’t new, but the All of Us
Program dug deeper into the issue. And the resulting insights can empower population health professionals to give better guidance to their patients. For example, the research showed that: 

  • Increased daily step counts were associated with a reduction in incidences of obesity, depression, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and more.1 
  • Each increase of 1,000 steps in participants’ average daily step count reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 25 percent.2 

The All of Us Research Program isn’t the only research initiative studying the effects of step count on health. Another study recently published in JAMA found a connection between increased daily steps and reduced cancer and cardiovascular disease incidences.3

Together, these two studies are providing a real-world evidence-base for guidance regarding activity levels that are necessary to reduce disease risk. For both studies, the statistically relevant positive effects topped out between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day – setting a practical, tangible goal that people can work toward through lifestyle changes. 

They also showed that some of the most significant benefits come from getting sedentary people moving, one step at a time. While 10,000 steps is a nice aspirational goal, any additional movement has health benefits. 

Big questions, better answers 

Prior research revealed important facts about the connection between physical activity and health. However, the All of Us researchers noted that limitations to previous studies left many unanswered questions. Past research, for example, often focused only on cardiovascular disease. But how did increased activity impact the risk of other diseases? 

In addition, data collected for prior studies was often self-reported, making it hard to gauge the true accuracy of the results. And in cases where researchers used activity-tracking devices, they often only monitored participants’ physical activity for a week or less. The question remained: How did longer stretches of daily activity impact participants over time?

By using commercial devices linked to electronic health records (EHRs), the All of Us Program is one of the first to fill in these gaps. The findings create the opportunity for a deeper understanding of how increased daily steps impact a wide range of health issues.

A roadmap for healthier lives

For population health professionals, the All of Us results provide distinct guidance that they can share, helping people improve their overall health and reduce their risk of chronic diseases. The results also reveal a way for those with chronic conditions to better manage them with straightforward lifestyle changes. 

By defining the relationship between step counts, physical activity, and chronic disease risk, we can all better understand why and how daily activity benefits health – and how to empower people to make small changes that have a big impact on their wellbeing.

2 Ibid

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