Did you know that poor health, fluctuating blood pressure and inactivity go together? Of course, you do. But what you may not know is exactly how many steps you need to get rid of your cardiologist.
Running a lifestyle clinic has its benefits. I get to ogle multiple apple watches, garmins, fitbits, patients wear and the stats on their exercise patterns.
Daily steps linked to health
After years of inspecting many activity trackers, one correlation became very clear: a link between a number of daily steps and the level of health, which was reflected energy level, overall well being and even blood pressure numbers.
Fluctuating blood pressure turns out to be a very common phenomenon in people who make the least steps in a day. Here are the details:
3,000 steps and fluctuating blood pressure?
- Statistics: average 3,000 steps/day
- Health effect: excess weight does not seem to be going away even with the proverbial “water diet”, extremely poor health, plagued by multiple recurring symptoms, exhaustion, constant malaise; frequent complaints of fluctuating blood pressure; cholesterol issues; low and high blood sugar; muscular aches; joint problems;
- Statistics: average 6,000 steps/day
- Health effect: weight seem to fluctuate up and down, but does not come down to the desirable number; ill-health; low energy; lack of stamina; recurring symptoms with a few good days; some blood pressure issues; some cholesterol issues; muscle aches;
- Statistics: average 10,000 steps/day
- Health effect: close to normal weight; a few symptoms, but most easily managed; normal energy; usually normal blood pressure and cholesterol;
- Statistics average 15,000 steps/day
- Health effect: normal weight; few if any symptoms; good energy; good stamina; good demeanor, relatively happy, productive and functional; great blood pressure and cholesterol; no blood sugar problems;
Fluctuating blood pressure is linked to… attitude
Initially I just saw the correlation, not knowing what to make out of it. Was it poor health causing lack of activity or lack of activity was causing poor health? What came first? Was it poor health that prevented people from moving about or it was lack of activity that caused health decline.
After a few months of blood tests, comprehensive health assessments, lifestyle adjustment trials, fitness sessions, wellness measures, motivational speeches, and other tricks I came to a very strong conclusion, the number of daily steps was a reflection of a mental attitude.
Dislike of exercise has health consequences
Some people simply had an inherent dislike for movement and they couldn’t be persuaded to do any kind of exercise regardless of their health status. Obviously, an attitude like that must lead to health consequences. Later I found formal studies that confirmed my findings.
Deconditioning, the main reason for fluctuating blood pressure
Some time ago I wrote a research paper on dysautonomia. Dysautonomia is a form of fluctuating blood pressure.
Although the paper is boring (as every research paper is), it carries a very strong message: the main reason for fluctuating blood pressure is deconditioning, or excessively sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical movement.
Blood pressure fluctuations are CNS, not heart dependent
Let me explain. Blood pressure numbers don’t depend so much on heart function, as they do on a nervous system. It is the nervous system that decides on ups and downs, highs and lows of blood pressure. And since physical exertion is the best trainer for the nervous system, it makes sense to focus on exercise to beat fluctuating blood pressure.
16,000 steps to beat arterial plaque?
Apparently the healthiest hearts are found in South America. A recent study published in the Lancet confirmed that the lowest in the world calcium scores (a measure of arterial blockage) were found among Tsimane people living in Bolivia.
Let`s see. While 80% of Americans in their 70s have clogged arteries, only one third of Tsimanes have any signs of atherosclerosis. That’s true even though a Tsimane eat more meat than an average American.
Why do I mention it here? Because Tsimanes, including elderly walk a lot, averaging about 16,000 steps a day. Can you see the pattern?
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Finding the reason for fluctuating blood pressure
If you want to check your stepping baseline, you need to get a physical activity tracker, or at least a pedometer. Wear it for a week without thinking about your step goals. Be yourself. Do what you normally do. Don’t change anything.
Don’t try to bump up your steps by shopping in extra-large malls or by innocently “lending” it to a more active friend. Also, don’t sabotage those seven days by forgetting to charge the battery, not putting the watch on after a shower, or putting it on too loose or too tight on the wrist.
Face the truth and change your health!
Inspect the results only after seven days. If your steps are nowhere near 10,000, don’t try to rationalize your sedentary attitude. Don’t blame lack of activity for long working hours, sniffles, bad weather, extra travel, or poor phone syncing. Get the courage and face your “lazy” demons.
Statistically speaking three out of four adults don’t make the recommended 10,000 steps. Also three out of four older adults have some kind of cardiovascular disease. A coincidence or a golden opportunity?
What about people over 70 , less stamina, some health problems sometimes 6000 steps are not possible let alone 15.000. It seems they are ignored by some dr., too late!!!!!!!!!
Age has nothing to do with the number of steps. The ability to walk long distances depends on the quality of self-care provided over the previous years. I have proven many times to my senior patients that physical ability is just a matter of approach, not the birth date. Stop thinking of yourself as old and throw away an idea that people are automatically dysfunctional past certain age. One advice: it is NEVER too late… unless you insist on believing so.
Dr. D — Could you please address the recent article in Washington Post that claims the 10,000 steps is “arbitrary”? I see you are quoting “statistics”, but could you please give me a link to the research report that came up with those statistics? That would be helpful. Thank you so much.
Hi Diane, I read the Washington Post article and I understand its angle. Let me answer in three points:
1. Does one need to do 10,000 steps to be healthy? My answer is no. Why? Because walking is not the only physical activity that benefits the body. For example, weight lifting, rowing, power yoga, swimming, push-ups, and chin-ups, although more intense (= more cardiovascularly beneficial) than walking, register on fitness watches as “0” steps. Do you need to have 10,000 steps AND an hour of rowing or two hours of paddling to be active and healthy? NO! Thus, 10,000 steps is not necessary at all for health.
2. Most people don’t do ANY whatsoever physical activities except walking. My clinical experience taught me that for the majority of ordinary people the number of steps (registered on watches) accurately reflects their activity level. The four levels of stepping (= activity level) mentioned in the article have been compiled from my clinical data (comparing health records of patients with steps registered on their fitness watches).
Simply put, the lower the activity level and the more sedentary one is, the poorer the health. If walking is all one does, 10,000 steps is a great goal: easy to remember and sets higher standard for people that otherwise would sit all day.
3. My opinion on walking:
I personally don’t aspire to 10,000. I focus on other activities, activities that provide far greater benefits to the body than walking can. My goal is to maintain or increase body’s functionality, thus I focus on exercises/activities that maintain or increase parameters such as range of motion, VO2Max, lean muscle mass, etc. Walking is a great starting point, but once you get more “advanced”, counting steps becomes irrelevant.