How 15,000 Steps a Day Can Change Your Health

How 15,000 Steps a Day Can Change Your Health
A new study says to aim for 15,000 steps instead of 10,000 to reap greater health benefits.

Sitting for too long during the day may increase your risk of death from nearly all health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Sitting for eight hours or more each day is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.1

Unfortunately, the average American spends between nine and 10 hours of their day sitting, and many office workers, such as telecommunications employees, may spend up to 12 hours each day sitting.2

Although exercise is part of the solution to a largely sedentary lifestyle, it cannot counteract the effects of sitting for long periods of time. Sitting at work and then relaxing at your computer or television at home, is associated with a mortality rate similar to that of smoking.3

Although this may be a powerful motivator to sit only when necessary, the habit of chronic sitting may be difficult to overcome.

Walking is an important tool in your arsenal to attain and maintain good health, but I don’t think of it as exercise. Instead, walking and movement are essential parts of the human experience your body requires to achieve good health and reduce your risk of disease.

Movement Is as Important as Exercise

The importance of exercise cannot be overstated. Research demonstrates multiple benefits to your physical, mental and emotional health that may also reduce your risk of disease. However, while exercise is vital to your long-term health, so is daily non-exercise movement.

Vigorous exercise cannot counteract the effects prolonged sitting has on your health.4 Prolonged sitting has been linked with significant health conditions regardless of other physical exercise you get during the day.5

Only consistent movement throughout the day can reduce your risk of health conditions triggered by inactivity.

If sitting too long increases your risk of disease, then intermittent movement is the answer for those who are chained to a desk at work. Just standing up every 15 minutes can help offset some of the damaging consequences of chronic sitting.6Ideally, sit down as little as possible while at work.

What’s important to realize is that there is a separate and distinct difference between too much sitting and too little exercise. To date, research has been clear that sitting too long is dangerous, but researchers are now beginning to realize standing alone may be a good alternative.

The U.S. has exercise recommendations, but none for movement, as does Australia, or Columbia where government workers are forced to take a break when software pauses their computer.7

I firmly believe a reasonable goal is to get up once every 15 minutes when you’re sitting, to stand, stretch or spend a couple minutes walking. It is difficult to remember to get up when you’re engaged in a project, so you may find it helpful to set an alarm on your computer.

It can be challenging to get up from your work, but as you practice standing throughout the day, you’ll likely experience less pain in your joints, greater productivity and creativity as blood flow to your brain doesn’t slow from being seated, and joints that aren’t as stiff at the end of the day.

Research Demonstrates Walking Reduces Risk of Metabolic Disorders

The initial research that made the link between activity and heart disease was published in 1953 by British epidemiologist Dr. Jeremy Morris.8

Considered groundbreaking, it changed the face of physical activity epidemiology and research for the coming decades.9 His work demonstrated not only did exercise reduce the risk of heart attack, but that those who had a heart attack should exercise.

Seventy years later, following further research proving activity reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, scientists have begun looking at just how much activity is necessary to reduce your risk of heart disease without increasing risk of joint pain or injury.

The commonly recommended threshold of walking 10,000 steps, although popular, has not been scientifically validated.10 The new study evaluated the health of postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland.

They compared the health of mail carriers who delivered mail on foot against postal office workers who remained at their desk for the bulk of their work day. The participants were between 40 and 60 years, without any personal history of heart disease.

Participants were weighed, measured and had blood sugar and cholesterol profiles drawn. They wore a sophisticated activity tracker at home and at work. From the tracker, the researchers calculated how many steps were taken each day and how much time was spent seated or on foot.

The researchers found great variations between office workers and mail carriers. As expected, those who spent most of each day in a chair had high body mass indexes, larger waistlines and worse blood sugar levels and cholesterol profiles than those who spent the major part of their day walking.

Even after controlling for factors such as age, family history or night-shift work, those who walked had lower risk profiles for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers were also able to demonstrate that for every hour beyond five hours that participants sat during the day, their risk of developing heart disease increased by two-tenths of a percentage point.

As some Americans may sit for up to 15 hours each day,11 this may equate to a 2 percent increased risk of heart disease, without including other risk factors.

What’s the Magic Number?

The idea that sitting for prolonged periods may devastate your health is not news. What this research found was that the more people moved, the more their risk for heart disease was reduced.

In this study, the mail carriers who walked 15,000 steps, or approximately seven miles, had normal body mass indexes, waistlines and metabolic profiles.12

There were some limitations as the researchers were measuring heart disease risk factors and did not follow participants for years to determine who may have actually suffered cardiovascular disease. The study also revealed an association between activity and risk, but was not designed to prove a link.

As the average adult walks between 1,000 and 3,000 steps per day,13 following the recommendation of the study potentially represents a large increase in activity or movement.

However, lead researcher Dr. William Tigbe at the University of Warwick believes it is possible for most. By walking briskly for two hours at a 4-miles-per-hour pace, you may easily achieve 7 to 8 miles per day.

He also suggests that by doing it in smaller chunks of time you also reduce the time you spend sitting. For instance, walking 30 minutes before work, at lunch and after dinner, with a few 10-minute shorter walks during the day, will accomplish the same thing.

Additionally, walking for 30 minutes after meals helps to stabilize your blood sugar level.14 Blood glucose is significantly lower in patients with diabetes after taking a 10-minute walk following a meal, compared to a 30-minute walk at random times during the day. By taking a walk after meals you effectively and simultaneously impact your blood sugar level and your cardiac risk.

Striving to achieve a goal of 15,000 steps each day helps maintain your weight, reduce your risk of disease and improves your productivity and creativity throughout the day.15,16

Read more about the benefits of walking at