Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that exercise translates into heart health and sitting puts you at risk for a heart attack.
What’s not clear, however, is exactly how much exercise we need. Most of us are busy and probably don’t like to exercise anyway, so many of us are asking, “What’s the least amount of exercise I have to do to be healthy?”
Until now, the answer was walking 10,000 steps a day. That was the widely accepted standard for daily exercise requirements. In fact, millions of Americans wear fitness trackers, like the super-popular FitBit, gizmos that keep track of the number of steps you walk each day. The big pay-off is when you reach 10,000 steps at which time a digital, mini-celebration ensues, including fireworks icons, buzzing and vibrating.
Now that’s changed. As it turns out, 10,000 is not enough. We need to walk 5,000 more steps a day to reach the new daily standard of 15,000 steps, which ends up being about seven miles.
Interestingly, the oft-touted 10,000 steps a day goal was not proven with scientific evidence. On the contrary, the 15,000 step rule was.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in England examined more than one hundred postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland between the ages of 40 and 50. The scientists compared two groups: the office workers who, like most office workers, sit most of the day, to the mail carriers who walk most of the day. The results of the new study were published in The International Journal of Obesity.
The researchers examined these key health indicators, that if elevated, increase the chance of heart disease
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Waist Size
- Blood Sugar Level
- Cholesterol Profile
The differences were stark. Almost across the board, the office workers had higher BMIs, blood sugar levels, larger waists and worse cholesterol numbers. Researchers discovered for every hour beyond five that workers sat each day, (some sat for up to 15 hours a day, considering what they did at home) they added about two-tenths of a percentage point to their likelihood of developing heart disease. Conversely, the mail carriers who walked 15,000 steps a day, which took them about three hours, had no increased risk of heart disease at all.
The good news is, even a little exercise helps. The study showed almost any amount of standing and walking reduced a worker’s chances of having a large waistline and other risk factors for heart disease.
Dr. William Tigbe, a physician and public health researcher at the University of Warwick who led the study said although it took the mail carriers three hours to walk 15,000 steps, it doesn’t have to take that long. “It takes effort,” he told the New York Times, “But we can accumulate 15,000 steps a day by walking briskly for two hours at about a four-mile-per-hour pace,” he said.
Speed it up even more by jogging or spending time on an ellipical machine or other more high-intensity activities.
Tigbe suggests incorporating movement into your entire day, rather than sitting most of the day except for one time block to exercise. “Our metabolism is not well-suited to sitting down all the time,” he said.
“This can be done in bits,” he adds, “Perhaps with a 30-minute walk before work, another at lunch, and multiple 10-minute bouts throughout the day.”