Get Your Steps In—and Lower Your BP—While Social Distancing

Go ahead and lace up. Just because gyms, fitness studios, and some outdoor tracks are shut down because of COVID-19, doesn’t mean you can’t still get your steps in.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

While we may be in a time of social distancing and other activity restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to stay active—in fact, it’s key for your physical health, especially when nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And according to a new study, people whose smart watches tracked more steps taken per day had lower blood pressure on average than those who take fewer daily steps.

The study, which was presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology, looked at data from 638 people who wore an Apple Watch every day and recorded their blood pressure at home every week. They found that each person’s systolic blood pressure—that’s the top number in your BP reading—was about 0.45 points lower for every 1,000 steps taken per day. On average, that means someone who took 10,000 steps in a day would have a systolic BP 2.25 below that of someone who took only 5,000 steps that day.

And because the average systolic blood pressure in this study’s participants was 122 mm Hg, that means those extra daily steps could make a real difference in whether these participants BP levels were considered normal (less than 120 mm Hg) or elevated (120 mm Hg or higher), per American College of Cardiology guidelines.

Additionally, participants with a higher daily step count had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure over a five-month period. While the study doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect link, it does suggest getting more steps in may be tied to lower blood pressure.

"This study solidifies our understanding of the relationship between physical activity and blood pressure and raises the possibility that obesity or body mass index accounts for a lot of that relationship," study author Mayank Sardana, M.D., a clinical fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release. "Going forward, it would be useful to look at how smart devices might be leveraged to promote physical activity, reduce the burden of obesity and potentially reduce blood pressure."

This is one of the first studies to use a widely available wearable device like an Apple Watch to track physical activity. One in five Americans already wears a smart watch that can track steps, per the Pew Research Center—and still others have smartphones that have step-tracking capabilities.

How to Up Your Step Count During the Pandemic

You may be worried about getting active during the COVID-19 pandemic. But social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with your exercise routine, and walking is especially doable. Even the places in the country with the strictest COVID-19 guidelines, like California, still allow people to go outside for the purposes of exercise.

Things like going on hikes and walking your dog are still allowed, as long as you keep a safe distance from other people who aren’t in your household—which is about 6 feet. Some people have already gotten creative and taken “social distancing walks” or hikes with friend, just 6 feet apart. A safer option (because let’s be real, it might be hard to remember to maintain that 6-foot distance when you’re talking to your walking buddy) would be to plan on walks with your friends and family in separate locations at the same time—while on the phone with each other.

Or simply make your walk or hike the regular time you call to check in with friends and family who you can’t safely visit at this time, even if they’re not walking with you in solidarity.

When returning home after the hike or long walk make sure you take off your shoes outside the house, go straight to the bathroom, shower, and put on fresh clothes. Toss the clothes you used for the outing in the laundry.

Walks with people you live with, solo walks, or walks with your dog are great (and safe!) options too. Consider listening to your favorite podcast, music, or audiobook. So, while now’s not the time to get involved in a group fitness activity or ask your new neighbor to accompany you on a daily stroll, you can still get your steps in.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.