Walking for your heart


Walking for Your Heart: Latest on Number of Daily Steps for Optimal Health

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

Taking 10,000 steps a day for optimal health has become a widely held belief. But the minimal ideal number of steps may not be that high, several studies have found. The latest one, carried out by research teams from the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.S., points to a lower number of steps: 8,000 – with 7,000 to 9,000 steps a day being a suitable range.

Nonetheless, don’t get hung up by the number of steps, according to Baptist Health experts. The most important factor is to establish a workable walking distance as many days as possible to get started. You can then track steps with your smartphone or smartwatch to set goals.

The 2023 Miami-Dade Heart Walk, organized annually by the American Heart Association, takes place across communities on Saturday, Dec. 2. Walking more for your heart – and overall health – is something that should be top-of-mind all year round, says Marcus St. John, M.D., an interventional cardiologist and the medical director of the Cath Lab at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Marcus St. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist and medical director of Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute‘s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab).

And Dr. St. John is well qualified as an expert on the topic of physical fitness. He not only runs the Cath Lab, where heart disease is diagnosed and often treated. He is also a runner who has completed a marathon (26.2 miles) and several half-marathons.

What is Dr. St. John’s recommendation for individuals, possibly older and overweight or with chronic conditions, for starting a walking program?

“Start with low volume -- as little as 5-10 minutes at a time -- and low frequency -- just a few days a week -- and work your way up to a goal of a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week,” explains Dr St. John.

But always “listen to your body,” he adds. “If you have pain or shortness of breath do not ‘work through it’ until you have spoken with your doctor.  It is a good idea to check in with your doctor to see if they have any concerns about you starting a walking program especially if you have a history of heart and lung disease.”

Should everyone aim for 8,000 to 10,000 steps, or is fixating on a number not a good thing? 

“Just get moving and don’t worry too much about hitting any targets,” said Dr. St. John. “Once your body is accustomed to activity, then adding targets such as 8-10K steps can help keep you motivated; but something is better than nothing.  I encourage patients to set very modest/achievable goals at first, and not to let perfection be the enemy of good.”

For substantial health benefits, U.S. guidelines call for adults to get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling. Adults should also do some muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

Dr. St. John emphasizes that the goal should be to move more and avoid sitting for too long. Any movement is healthier than sitting. And following the American Heart Association’s "Life’s Essential 8" checklist.

“Get moving even in small ways and avoid sitting for long stretches at a time,” he explains. “Pay attention to sleep hygiene and stress management. If you smoke, stop smoking. Know your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose (sugar) levels and weight.  Avoid processed foods, refined sugars, salt and saturated fats. Limit alcohol. Lean towards plant-based, whole foods. The American Heart Association has many user-friendly resources at its website to help in the journey to optimal heart health.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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