We all know that exercise is important for helping us to stay healthy. But you don’t have to pound the treadmill for hours to reap the benefits as just a ten minute walk each day could help prevent a heart attack or stroke, scientists have advised.
The study, presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago, found just 1,000 steps a day, or the equivalent of a brisk 10-minute walk, could reduce the risk of hypertension.
Also known as high blood pressure (HBP), hypertension, is a long-term medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated.
If left untreated it can increase your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
Read more: Why walking is the best exercise ever
The findings of the new research were based on data from 638 participants in the Framingham Heart Study that has been monitoring residents of the Massachusetts town for over seven decades.
They were asked to wear an Apple Watch daily and record their blood pressure at home weekly.
Over the course of about five months, participants averaged about 7,500 steps per day.
Researchers found participants’ systolic blood pressure - the amount of pressure in the arteries during contraction of the heart muscle - was about 0.45 points lower for every 1,000 daily steps taken.
This means 10,000 steps daily, the equivalent of a sustained walk of 30 to 60 minutes, would reduce it by an average 2.25 points compared to taking just 5,000 steps.
Scientists explained that given the volunteers had an average systolic blood pressure of 122 mm Hg it would be the difference between blood pressure that is considered normal (less than 120 mm Hg) and elevated (120 mm Hg or higher).
Lead author Dr Mayank Sardana, of the University of California, San Francisco, said participants who took more steps daily, as tracked by their watch, had lower blood pressure on average than those taking fewer steps.
“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,” he says.
“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.”
The study backs previous research suggesting that being more physically active can help lower blood pressure, Dr Sardana added.
Read more: We should all walk during our lunch breaks
Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure, with half not diagnosed or receiving treatment.
In England alone there are more than five million people that are undiagnosed.
The condition, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes, rarely has any symptoms which is why it is called the 'silent killer'.
The only way to know you have the condition is to get your blood pressure measured.
High blood pressure costs the NHS over £2.1 billion every year.
Previous research has revealed that walking slowly or movement of any intensity lowers your risk of early death.
The research, conducted by Professor Ulf Ekelund at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, found a sedentary lifestyle which involves sitting for nine and a half hours or more daily (excluding sleeping time) is linked to a raised risk of death.
This latest research adds to the often conflicting advice about how much walking we need to do (and how fast we need to do it) to stay healthy.
Popular wisdom would suggest walking 10,000 steps daily is the optimum for our health – a figure which originated from a Japanese marketing campaign in the mid-60s.
However, according to Prof David Bassett, head of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies at the University of Tennessee, there wasn’t any scientific basis for the figure. “They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy,” he told The Guardian.
Meanwhile, a study last year found taking 5,000 steps a day is sufficient in order to increase life expectancy.
And a further study found fast walkers could live up to 15 years longer than people who dawdle.
Additional reporting SWNS.