How many steps should you take in a day? The standard answer has been 10,000 steps per day, but even if you’re hitting that mark, you may want to up it a bit.
The latest study found that walking 15,000 steps or more each day may be key to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels, and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
“Workers who walked 15,000 steps or more each day, had normal body mass indexes, normal waistlines, and no indicators of metabolic syndrome.”
Researchers followed postal workers in Scotland, including those who performed desk jobs and those who delivered mail by foot, and had them wear an activity tracker. The workers’ body mass index (BMI), waist size, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol profiles were measured periodically.
Analysis at the end of the study period showed that, predictably, the sedentary workers had higher BMIs, wider waists, poorer blood sugar control, and worse cholesterol profiles than those who were active. And for every hour after five hours that workers remained sitting, they saw a 0.2% increase in their risk of developing heart disease during their lifetime.
By contrast, the participants who walked a lot every day were in great health. Workers who walked 15,000 steps or more each day, or stood upright for seven hours or more, had normal body mass indexes (BMI), normal waistlines, and no indicators of metabolic syndrome.
This research tells us that the current standard of 10,000 steps per day is inadequate and should be adjusted to 15,000 daily steps to prevent life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
Obviously any amount of walking and standing is going to be better for you than sitting, and 10,000 steps are better than none. But 15,000 can sound daunting, especially if you’re not quite meeting the 10,000 mark, either.
Getting to 15,000 Steps
If you’re looking to increase your daily steps, start with a doable number, like 500 additional steps per day, for a week. For example, if you’re taking about 5,000 steps per day currently, take 5,500 steps on week one, 6,000 steps per day on week two, and keep going. You’ll reach 15,000 steps in 20 weeks without even realizing it. A pedometer, like a Fitbit, or even an app on your smartphone can help you keep track.
Here are some additional ideas for easily increasing your step count:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park your car farther away from the entrance.
- Take a walk with your family after dinner or on weekends.
- Walk the dog an extra block.
- Go window shopping at the mall.
- Walk to the store.
- Run an errand (literally).
- Have a walking meeting with colleagues at work.
- Walk while brushing your teeth.
- Do housework or garden.
Curious how your steps translate to distance? Here is a general conversion of steps to miles:
- 2,500 steps – about one mile
- 5,000 steps – about two and a half miles
- 10,000 steps – about four to five miles
- 15,000 steps – about seven miles
So if you meet your goal of 15,000 steps per day, you’re covering quite a distance!
While walking 10,000 or 15,000 steps every day will burn calories, don’t expect to lose a large amount of weight quickly because walking doesn’t burn as many calories as other fitness activities. Walking more is primarily for fitness and extending your health span, the time in your life where you enjoy optimal health.
There’s no easier way to increase health and decrease disease risk than by taking a few simple steps toward taking more steps. You can absolutely achieve that 15,000-step mark if you put your mind (and feet) to it!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.