Prescriptions for Daily Steps Could Increase Physical Activity Levels

Patients who were prescribed a daily step goal increased their activity by 20%.

With numerous step-counting devices that link to smartphones, individuals are more likely than ever before to keep track of their daily steps.

Interestingly, when prescribed by a physician, daily step counts were seen to increase by 20%, according to a study published by Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism.

Patients who were prescribed daily steps also were observed to have improved health benefits, including lower blood glucose levels and lower insulin resistance for patients with hypertension or type 2 diabetes.

Participating in at least 30 minutes of daily exercise has been shown to provide significant health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure. In patients with type 2 diabetes, regular walking can reduce the risk of mortality and vascular events by 40% over 10 years.

Current step guidelines suggest that individuals walk at least 10,000 steps per day to see health benefits, but individuals who take 5000 or less steps per day may be at an increased risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, which can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and blindness, according to the study.

Although there have been significant findings showing the benefits of exercise, physical inactivity is a prominent concern among physicians.

"As physicians, we have to face reality and admit that for many patients, just telling them to be more physically active simply doesn't work," said principal study author Kaberi Dasgupta, MD. "A lot of people want to be active, but it is very difficult to change health behaviors. The idea in this study is to use step counts almost as a medication."

Dr Dasgupta focuses on the prevention and management of blood vessel diseases in patients with diabetes, and has been interested in how step-counting can impact these patients.

"Our physical activity is often divided throughout our day, so measuring distance can be complicated,” Dr Dasgupta said. “With step-counting, it is easier to quantify your daily physical activity, especially for people who do not run or go to the gym."

Included in the study were 364 patients and 74 physicians from hospitals in Montreal. All patients were advised to continue with their normal medical routine, but some were prescribed a daily step count and given a pedometer.

After 1 year, patients who received a step-counting prescription walked 1200 steps more per day, compared with patients who were not prescribed the activity, according to the study. Patients with type 2 diabetes were observed to have better control of their blood glucose levels, and experienced less insulin resistance.

This study is the first to suggest that a prescription for daily steps can benefit overall health, and the authors plan to advance their findings in the future.

"If we want doctors to prescribe physical activities, it needs to be aligned and integrated in the medical routine and added to health guidelines, which we plan on doing in the near future,” Dr Dagupta concluded.