Sedentary, overweight people are more likely to have stiff, hardened arteries, which are associated with heart disease and its complications. People who exercise regularly are more likely to have flexible and more elastic arteries, which is better for heart health.
According to a recent study meta-analysis in Hypertension, higher physical activity levels may have a positive effect on arterial flexibility. Using data from 10 previously published studies, the researchers looked at the number of steps per day that people took, along with the stiffness or elasticity of their arteries, which the researchers measured using a technique called pulse wave velocity.
HOW MANY STEPS LEAD TO HEALTHIER ARTERIES?
Based on the pulse wave velocity measurements, researchers found people who were the most physically active — those who took more than 10,000 steps per day — seemed to have the most elastic arteries, while those who were the most sedentary — those who took fewer than 5,000 steps per day — appeared to have the stiffest arteries. The research also suggested every additional 1,000 steps per day that people took may have had positive effects on arterial elasticity, even among sedentary people.
While many people strive for 10,000 steps daily, there are also benefits to taking a greater number of steps or even fewer steps. “More is generally better, so 10,000 is better than 5,000, and 7,000 is probably better than 5,000,” says study author Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, professor and associate dean of research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
“There is nothing magical about walking 10,000 steps per day, which is approximately 5 miles,” says Dr. Jerry Fleg, a medical officer in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s division of cardiovascular sciences. “Many studies have shown benefits in reducing cardiovascular disease events with substantially lower levels of activity, although there is generally a greater benefit at higher activity levels.”
If the idea of walking 10,000 steps per day seems overwhelming, don’t worry. “Any amount of activity is beneficial, and some activity is better than none,” says Fleg. “A recent study of elderly sedentary women, which used step counts as the measure, showed more steps/activity, even when not meeting 10,000 steps, was associated with significantly decreased risk of premature mortality.” Even a 10-minute walk can have significant health benefits and you can build your way up to more steps over time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Walking more is good for your overall health, and it may also help your arteries become more flexible, although there isn’t a set number of steps per day that may lead to arterial improvements. Further research is needed to see if walking significantly more than 10,000 steps per day could have an even greater benefit on arterial health, notes Tudor-Locke. “At the end of the day, this study is just one more piece of evidence that suggests walking more is beneficial for your health.”