Walking 10,000 steps a day can lower the risk of heart disease and early death even if people spend most of their day sitting down, research suggests.

Previously, experts have found that people who spend a lot of time sitting while awake, including at their desks or watching TV, are more likely to suffer an early death and develop heart disease.

It wasn’t clear if walking could offset the effects of sitting down for most of the day, until now.

A new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that every extra step above 2,200 steps per day (up to around 10,000) reduces these risks, regardless of how much of the remaining time is spent sitting.

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Walking daily can lower the risk of heart disease and early death

The lowest risk of early death was among people who took 9,000 to 10,500 steps per day, the experts found.

When it came to avoiding stroke and heart attack, the lowest risks were in people taking around 9,700 steps a day.

Experts led by the University of Sydney used UK Biobank data from 72,174 people who were aged around 61 to complete the study.

Each participant wore an accelerometer device on their wrist for seven days to measure exercise levels.

Over almost seven years of follow-up, 1,633 deaths were recorded and 6,190 cardiovascular events happened such as a heart attack or stroke.

Any amount of daily steps above 2,200 per day were linked to lower death and heart disease regardless of time spent being sedentary but the benefits increased the more steps people took, the results showed.

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Overall, taking 9,000 to 10,500 steps per day decreases the risk of early death by 39% and the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 21%.

In both cases, 50% of the benefit was achieved at between 4,000 and 4,500 steps per day.

A second study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found even low levels of exercise can help cut the risk of stroke.

These researchers, including from Imperial College London NHS Healthcare Trust, said: “People should be encouraged to be physically active even at the lowest levels.”

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said of the studies: “We know that daily physical activity is essential to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of developing heart conditions and your risk of stroke.

“These hopeful new studies show us that every single step towards making it to 10,000 steps a day counts to reducing risk of death and heart disease. Even low levels of activity can reduce the risk of stroke.

“We encourage everyone to stay active for their heart and circulatory health by doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

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“This can be any activity that fits into your lifestyle, such as taking regular walking breaks away from your computer screen, going to the gym, enjoying exercise classes, or even getting off the bus one stop earlier to get more steps in.

“For more information on staying active, visit our website or speak to your GP on what level of exercise works for you.”

Matt Lambert, health information and promotion manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, said the study showed the “more active we are, the more we can reduce the risk of common diseases such as cancer and heart disease”.

He added: “What is particularly reassuring in this study, is that for those people with busy lives who find the 10,000 steps figure unobtainable, a significant health benefit was seen in those doing between 4,000 and 5,000 steps a day.”