Is it really that important to take the stairs instead of the elevator? According to recent research from the University of California, San Francisco, yes! The more steps you take in a day, the better off you are, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure.
During the study, researchers tracked the blood pressure and physical activity of 638 smartwatch users for approximately five months. They discovered that users with a higher daily step count had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic refers to the all-important top number on a blood pressure reading, while diastolic refers to the bottom number.
Finding healthy ways to lower high blood pressure will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, healthy living habits are just as important as blood pressure medicines and the treatment of other medical conditions in keeping hypertension at bay.
We know that reaching the recommended 10,000 steps every day sounds daunting, but we’ve got some tricks to help you lead a less sedentary lifestyle in no time.
How can walking help reduce your blood pressure?
In analyzing the data from 638 smartwatches, investigators found that participants’ systolic blood pressure fell by 0.45 points for every 1,000 steps taken. In effect, an adult walking an average of 10,000 steps per day could have a systolic blood pressure reading 2.25 points lower than an adult walking an average of 5,000 steps per day.
It should be noted that the link between daily step count and blood pressure was no longer significant when body mass index (BMI) was taken into account. But while the study was observational and its correlations do not imply causation, the data is in line with previous research that suggests routine physical activity can help manage hypertension.
So, why might daily walks help lower your blood pressure? According to the American Heart Association, regular exercise improves the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen. It can also strengthen the heart which in turn pumps more blood with less effort. This will decrease the force placed on your arteries, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Regular exercise is also associated with a reduction in body weight and bad (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol. Physical activity may also increase your levels of good (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) cholesterol and your insulin sensitivity. High cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance have all been linked to high blood pressure.
How to Boost Your Daily Step Count
Most smart phones nowadays have tracking capabilities, making it easy to view how many steps you’re taking on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Still, it may be helpful to invest in a simple wrist pedometer to count the steps you take when you don’t have your phone with you.
By tracking your step count, you will be able to better understand your walking and sitting habits and follow your progress. You will also be able to see which physical activities increase your steps the most.
Want to know the best way to get more steps in during the day? Dedicate 20-60 minutes of the day to some form of exercise. If you’re just getting back into it, don’t worry. There are plenty of low-impact exercises that can boost your step count. Walking is one of the easiest options.
A leisurely stroll is free and low impact. Plus, walking with friends or family is a great way to spend time with loved ones during the pandemic as you can remain socially-distanced. Friends or family may keep you more accountable, making it more likely that your walks will become a habit.
Need another way to revitalize your motivation? Try getting a dog! A dog requires plenty of daily exercise and will ensure that you get in two or three walks every day. If you don’t want that level of commitment, offer to walk your friend or neighbor’s dog instead. Having a responsibility increases the likelihood that you will keep walking on a regular basis.
Other fun and creative ways to boost your step count include:
- Live stream workouts: If you are a beginner or looking for an easier routine, search for low-impact workouts, no-jumping workouts, Pilates, or yoga.
- Zumba dance videos: Many of these are available for free on YouTube.
- DIY projects or chores around the house: Get two tasks done in one fell swoop! You will be surprised at how many steps it could take to complete a project.
If you have increased your levels of physical activity but you’re still struggling to reach 10,000 steps, try these easy hacks to fill in those remaining steps:
- Park in a far-away spot when you go to the grocery store.
- Get up and pace during every commercial break when you’re watching TV.
- Pace the room while you chat on the phone.
- Take a moving break every so often if you’re working from home on your computer. Bonus: Looking away from your computer on regular breaks can reduce eye strain.
- Work upstairs if you’re working from home. This way, you will need to walk up and down the stairs for coffee, tea, or snack breaks.
If taking 10,000 steps a day still seems daunting impossible, ot’s okay to lower your daily goal to make it more manageable. You don’t want to burn out after a week and lose your motivation. By beginning with a lower target, such as 5,000 steps per day, you are more likely to reach your weekly goal which will give you the positive reinforcement you need to keep going. Most importantly, you will be on the right track to forming a healthy habit.