Higher Step Count Boosts Health in Heart Failure Patients

Increasing daily step count may improve health in people with heart failure, research suggests.

The findings of the study, led by the researchers at Michigan Medicine and the University of Missouri with Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, were published in JACC: Heart Failure.

In the trial, more than 400 patients with heart failure were given activity monitors to evaluate how their daily step count and the number of floors climbed affected their symptoms and physical limitations over 12 weeks. The researchers used the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaires (KCCQ) to measure the patient’s perception of their symptoms and physical limitations.

Daily step counts between 1,000 and 5,000 steps were associated with significantly improved symptoms and fewer physical limitations, reflected by KCCQ scores.

For example, people who walked 2,000 steps per day had total symptoms scores 3.11 points higher and physical limitation scores 5.36 points higher than those who took 1,000 steps daily.

Participants who increased their step counts by 2,000 steps per day during the 12 weeks experienced a 5-point increase in physical limitation scores compared to those who did not change their step counts.

Although increasing the number of steps over time translated into better symptom control and physical function, declines in daily step count did not affect these outcomes.

Thus far, collecting patient data outside of office visits has been challenging, says co-senior author Brahmajee Nallamothu, M.D., professor of internal medicine-cardiology at U-M Medical School.

"By collecting data from wearable devices, we can now examine folks in their home environments and over time. That’s something special about this work. We will have much more to learn as we consider things that can affect step counts like travel, weather, and holidays," he adds.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. The condition affects about 6.2 million adults in the United States. Illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure, and lifestyle choices, such as smoking or a high-fat diet, can increase the risk of heart failure.

Regular exercise has many benefits for people with the condition, as it strengthens the heart, improves circulation, and helps increase energy levels.

The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, including brisk walking, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. Preferably, exercise should be spread throughout the week. However, a recent study in healthy individuals suggests that squeezing most or all weekly physical activity in a day or two on the weekend may have similar cardiovascular benefits.

While many people aim for 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy, the optimal daily step count depends on many factors, including age and overall fitness level.

The study authors say that the latest findings emphasize the importance of understanding whether and how data from increasingly popular consumer wearables is clinically meaningful.

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