If you strive to get 10,000 steps a day, you’re going to want to read this: New research in The International Journal of Obesity suggests that the recommended number of daily steps may actually fall short in terms of slashing your risk of heart disease.
For the study, researchers in the UK recruited 111 Scottish postal workers who engaged in varying levels of physical activity: Some were office-bound with desk jobs, while others delivered mail on foot.
At the start of the study, all the volunteers were assessed for risk factors for coronary heart disease. The researchers measured the workers' blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as their blood pressure, waist circumference, and BMI. The participants were then given activity trackers to wear around the clock for seven days.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the postal workers who sat for most of the day also had larger waistlines, higher triglycerides (a type of blood fat), and lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind). On the other hand, the more time postal workers spent upright or walking, the smaller their waistlines, the lower their triglycerides, and the higher their HDL cholesterol.
But the best results belonged to workers who walked 15,000 steps a day (or spent more than seven hours of their day upright). These people had normal metabolic characteristics—and no heightened risk for heart disease.
The study authors acknowledge, however, that that much activity isn't practical for most people who don't walk for a living: “The levels associated with zero risk factors in the current study ... would be challenging and difficult to sustain unless incorporated into occupations,” they wrote.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by a 15,000-step goal, remember this: Any amount of exercise you can squeeze in helps. A walk in the morning, a few laps around the block at lunch, an evening workout—it all adds up.
"The key point is that our metabolism is not usually well suited to our relatively recent habit of prolonged sitting," co-author William Tigbe, PhD, a clinical lecturer at the Warwick Medical School, told Health in an email. "As hunters and gatherers we walked for miles to acquire food. We now need to rebuild our daily routines in such a way that we can take several short walking breaks during prolonged sitting hours, and/or have a standing desk."