Daily exercise like walking is one of the best things you can do to maintain or improve your heart health, including your cholesterol levels. Studies show that exercise can lower triglycerides and increase your good cholesterol levels (HDL). (It doesn’t help LDL levels, though. For that, try these diet changes.)
If you have a fitness tracker, or see their ads, you may think 10,000 steps is the ideal number of daily steps to take. Maybe you've seen recommendations from the World Health Organization and the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proclaiming that 10,000 steps are the target for adults.
Yet, both organizations now say the right number of daily steps depends on your fitness level and your goals. Read on to get a better understanding.
Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?
Walking daily is great for many reasons. It reduces your risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. It can improve your flexibility, mood, sleep, and physical strength.
But your target number of daily steps depends on your age, current fitness level, and goals. So, 10,000 steps may be too many to start. It’s estimated that 2,000 steps are typically about a mile.
Overall, increasing your daily steps is a good goal unless you’re already doing over 12,000 a day. A study published in 2020 found that increasing your daily steps lowers mortality risk, especially if you’re walking 4,000 or fewer steps a day.
“They found that, compared with taking 4,000 steps per day, a number considered to be low for adults, taking 8,000 steps per day was associated with a 51% lower risk for all-cause mortality (or death from all causes),” reports the CDC . Taking 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65% lower risk compared with taking 4,000 steps.”
Does Tracking Steps Make Sense for You?
What’s the magical number of steps for you? The answer may be to not focus on the steps at all, especially if you want to improve your cholesterol.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests we start slowly and build up when starting an aerobic exercise program aimed at lowering cholesterol. Aim for about 200 minutes of exercise each week and at least 30 minutes of continual aerobic exercise. However, it’s fine to start with 15 minutes and work up. Overexerting yourself can lead to chronic inflammation, pain, and injuries. (Learn how to increase your exercise while avoiding inflammation in this article!)
Instead of counting steps, use your breath to determine if your exercise pace is right for you.
“The exercise should feel moderate to somewhat heavy so that you can still carry on a conversation without being too breathless,” the clinic recommends. “However, you should feel breathless enough to not be able to sing comfortably.”
Tips for Increasing Aerobic Exercise
If you’re starting an exercise routine or increasing your exercise, the Cleveland Clinic has these suggestions:
- Get your doctor’s okay, especially if you’re just beginning to exercise or have any health issues.
- Wear comfy clothes and supportive shoes.
- Increase gradually. How many steps or minutes are you doing now? Don’t double overnight.
- Exercise at the same time, if possible so it becomes a habit.
- Recruit family and friends to join you and help keep you motived.
- Vary activities and find those you love. Try swimming, cycling, hiking, a step machine, or an elliptical machine.
- Record your exercise distance or time. Tracking your progress helps you keep going.
- Complement your aerobic exercise with yoga, tai chi, pilates, or an exercise class.
- Add steps throughout the day by taking the stairs, parking further away, and taking short walking breaks whenever possible.
- Remember that you may need to restart (slowly) if you’ve been ill, had surgery, or strayed from your exercise habit!
If you’d like to count steps and don’t have a fitness tracker, try a pedometer app on your phone! They can track your steps, speed, calories, routes and much more.
Whether you count steps or track time, remember to praise yourself for being active! Your heart and your whole body thank you.