TUESDAY, Oct. 5, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Americans need to step it up when it comes to walking, experts say.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee found that Americans average just 5,117 steps per day, far fewer than people in Australia (9,695), Switzerland (9,650) and Japan (7,168).
The analysis of data from 1,136 U.S. adults also revealed that, on average, American men take more steps per day than women -- 5,340 versus 4,912. In addition, single people in the United States take significantly more steps per day (6,076) than those who are married (4,793) or widowed (3,394).
The study findings are published in the October issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
"The health benefits of walking are underappreciated. Even modest amounts of walking, if performed on a daily basis, can help to maintain a healthy body weight," lead author Dr. David R. Bassett, Jr., of the University of Tennessee Obesity Research Center in Knoxville, said in an American College of Sports Medicine news release.
The study findings help explain why obesity rates are much higher in the United States than in other developed countries, the researchers noted. Thirty-four percent of U.S. adults are obese, compared with 16 percent in Australia, 8 percent in Switzerland and 3 percent in Japan.
"The results of our study are reasonably consistent with data from surveys of travel behavior," Bassett said. "In Switzerland and Japan, a much higher percentage of trips are taken by walking, compared to the United States. This is reflected in their greater daily step counts, and the additional walking seems to have an enormous public health benefit for those countries."
Another report on walking and health, published earlier this year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that Americans who walked more than 5,000 steps a day were 40 percent less likely to develop metabolic syndrome -- often a precursor to diabetes -- and those who walked 10,000 or more steps were 72 percent less likely to get it.
Experts recommend that Americans add 30 to 40 minutes of walking to their daily physical activity regimen.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about walking.