10,000 Steps a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Patient Expert

Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day. That is over 2.5 billion beats in a lifetime One of the best things that you can do to keep your heart healthy is to be physically active. It really does not matter what type of activity you do as long as you raise your heart rate. You can run, swim, play sports, dance, or simply go for a walk. Of course, the more vigorous or prolonged the activity, the more exercise you are giving your heart.

Why do we even need exercise? Modern society enjoys the benefits of technology which makes our lives much easier yet more sedentary. Computers, phones, fax machines, elevators, escalators, cars, and our beloved remote controls allow us to get through a large part of our day with minimal physical effort. In fact, a study at Berkeley by Linda Dong and colleagues shows that the largest contributor to burning calories for many Americans is driving a car.

Just how much exercise do you really need? The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity activity 3-4 days each week. It is even better if you can do this on a daily basis and for about an hour. However, we are often so busy that it may seem difficult to find even 20 minutes a day to exercise. Keep in mind that small amounts of physical activity throughout the day add up, and it is perfectly acceptable to do short 10 minute bursts of activity scattered during the day.

Another strategy is to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life. Rather than circling around the parking lot looking for the closest spot, go ahead and park a little further away. Figure out where the stairs are in your building, and use them. Instead of sending email or calling your co-worker, you can walk over to his desk and discuss things face-to face. As soon as you print a file, get up to retrieve it from the printer rather than waiting for several documents to pile up. While you are on the phone, you can stand up or do leg exercises while sitting. These tips are examples of small, simple ways to keep you moving.
Have you ever wondered if you get enough exercise in your daily activity? An easy way to measure this is to use a pedometer. Pedometers are very inexpensive and may cost as little as $4 or less than that afternoon latte. You can find them at local drugstores and sporting goods stores. The goal is to reach 10,000 steps a day, which is the equivalent of about 5 miles. Wear the pedometer for a few days to get your baseline average. Once you establish your baseline number, then you should work to increase the number of steps by 500 steps a day each week until you reach 10,000 steps a day. For example, if you find that you are walking about 2,000 steps a day, then your goal is 2,500 steps a day for a week and 3,000 steps a day for the next week. To help with motivation, invite friends or co-workers to join you. You can have pedometer challenges to see who can have the most number of steps and give a prize to the winner.

Feel free to experiment with different activities to see what suits you the best. If you have a medical condition, you can discuss appropriate types of exercise with your physician. Gradually build up how much activity you do. Even modest amounts of exercise can have cardiovascular benefits. Remember that it is never too late to start!