We’ve long been told that we should be aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day. For years, that has been the magical number that paints the picture of optimal physical health. But a new study suggests that we may need to add an extra 5,000 steps into our day and should in fact be aiming for 15,000 steps in total.
Researchers at the University of Warwick England analyzed a group of postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland who carried mail by foot as well as office workers who sat for the majority of the day. Participants wore an activity tracker all day both on and off the job. The group of postal workers periodically had their body mass index (BMI), waist size, cholesterol profile, and blood sugar levels measured throughout the study, all of which are risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Based on the data collected from the activity trackers, the scientists behind the study calculated how many hours each day the volunteers spent sitting or on foot, as well as how many total steps each participant took per day. The postmen that spent most of the day being sedentary were found to have higher BMIs, larger waistlines, poor blood sugar, and less than ideal cholesterol levels as compared to those that were frequently walking around and actively delivering mail.
After five hours, every additional hour that workers spent sitting added .2% to their likelihood to developing heart disease. They were also able to conclude that nearly any amount of standing or walking reduced a worker’s chances of having the precursors to heart disease, which include a thicker waistline. But the greatest benefits were seen in the most active mail carriers. The postmen who walked for more than three hours a day and covered at least 15,000 steps, were shown to have normal BMIs, waistlines, and metabolic profiles. Essentially this meant that they had no heightened risk for obtaining heart disease. So ultimately, the study suggests that walking throughout the day is a great way to keep healthy and that the closer to 15,000 steps you can get, the better.
How to sneak 15,000 steps into your day
Walking 15,000 steps equates to roughly seven miles of walking a day. While that may sound intimidating, there are ways in which you can work to add extra steps into your routine. “It takes effort but we can accumulate 15,000 steps a day by walking briskly for two hours at about a four-mile-per-hour pace,” says DR. William Tigbe, a physician and public health researcher at the University of Warwick who led the study.
But not all of your steps have to be achieved at once. Here are some tips from professional fitness trainers on how to cram some extra walking distance into your schedule:
- Make your meetings walking meetings. “Studies show walking promotes creativity, even if it’s just walking around indoors. Because of this, a lot of start-ups and more cutting-edge companies have instituted walking meetings. It’ll give your team a breath of fresh air, some extra steps for their pedometer, and you’ll be surprised what comes of it,” says mind-body expert Sonia Satra.
- Walk to the water cooler and back – frequently. This does double duty – keeps you hydrated, and boosts your step count
- Instead of coffee or a snack on your break at work, take a walk. You’ll feel more refreshed and more creative when you come back.
- Set an alarm for eight times a day, throughout the day. That’s your cue to get some steps in, even if it’s just once around the office.
- “If you need to speak with your colleague down the hall, walk to their office rather than calling or emailing,” says Health and Fitness Coach Adam Grey.
- Break it up. Tigbe notes that achieving your goal of 15,000 steps can be done in bits – “perhaps with a 30-minute walk before work, another at lunch, and multiple 10-minute bouts throughout the day.”
- Take your dog for a stroll. “I get 2,500 steps before 7.a.m this way – plus you’ll meet some interesting people, and make a new friend (or two!),” says Satra.
- Make Happy Hour “Healthy Hour.” Instead of meeting for a drink after work, invite your friends for a stroll around town. Tell them about the 15,000-step goal, and make it a group effort. (But remember, it’s 15,000 steps each.)
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever the opportunity presents itself
- Keep your cell phone in another room. Anytime it rings or beeps, you’re gaining extra steps to get up and check it,” Grey explains. “Better yet, walk around your home while you take the call.”
- Team up with a walking buddy or schedule weekend family walks
- Take the farthest parking spot every time you run an errand
- Instead of plopping down on the couch to watch your favorite Netflix show, hop on the treadmill while you binge it and get some steps in
While 10,000 steps a day is a great fitness goal, experts say that we need the extra 5,000 to really benefit our health. Walking is a great workout, especially for those that hate the gym or don’t want to engage in exercises that are physically demanding on the knees and joints. And in addition to reducing your risk of heart disease, a walking session provides an array of benefits like improving your composition, reducing your risk of breast cancer, boosting your immune function, and lowering pain associated with arthritis.