Since the invention of the Fitbit and other step-counting devices, most people have been focused on their daily goal of 10,000 steps as a benchmark for a healthy life. While a round number like 10,000 may seem fishy, this one is backed by some good data found by a Japanese team back in 2000. They found that walking 10,000 steps a day could improve blood pressure scores among men with hypertension. More research has linked a 10,000 step habit to a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, better psychological well-being, weight loss, and improved body composition.
But two new studies suggest that a higher threshold for steps- 15,000 or more- may be a better daily goal. One of those studies looked at an isolated group who live in the Bolivian Amazon and have some of the healthiest hearts on record: the Tsimane. In terms of the Tsimane’s coronary calcium scores, their hearts were on average 28 years younger than Americans’ according to Dr. Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City. Thompson and his colleagues found that the Tsimane spend roughly five or six hours a day on their feet and engaged in physical activity. That translated, roughly, to about 15,500 steps a day for women and more than 17,000 for men.
The second new study equipped 111 postal workers in the UK with activity trackers for a week to monitor how much they walked and sat. Those who took 15,000 steps or more each day had almost no risk for cardiovascular disease. “For all the millions of years of our evolution, we were on our feet and using our legs for about eight hours every day,” says study coauthor Mike Lean, chair of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Every extra half hour that a postal worker spent sitting during a typical workday was linked to an additional .8 inches of waistline and a heart disease risk of 0.2% greater. Yikes!
All of this is fine and dandy, but is 15,000 steps a day actually realistic for most people to reach? This would take about 3.5 hours a day, which is a hefty commitment for most working adults. More importantly, it would be better to simply reduce sedentary behavior and increase activity overall. What do you do to stay active? Do you use an activity tracker? What’s your daily step goal? Do you focus on that or do other types of activities to stay active? Do you ever reward yourself with a healthy (or not-so-healthy) snack?