Walking is one of the easiest ways to start fitting more activity into your day. But can it actually help you lose weight? Well, maybe, depending on how you do it. “If you do 10,000 steps a day and change nothing else, you may lose weight,” says Dr Lawrence Cheskin, coauthor of Weight Loss for Life: The Proven Plan for Success. “But weight loss is variable and dependent on many other factors such as activity level, portion sizes, and food choices.”
In order to lose weight, you’ve got to do more than count steps. “Counting steps is useful because you can monitor yourself every day, but if the number of steps are your primary driver, you may not make the gains you expected,” says Anthony J. Wall, personal trainer. “What’s effective is the frequency, intensity and duration of your activity. Focusing on steps is helpful for overall health, but it’s irrelevant if you’re slowly strolling around a museum all day.”
Here’s everything else you should know about how many steps a day you need to lose weight:
How many steps should you take a day?
Plenty of research has shown that walking can have significant health benefits, including improving blood pressure, lipid profiles and cardiovascular function, reducing waist circumference, and maintaining bone density. But while you’ve probably heard that you should take 10 000 steps a day, it turns out that number is somewhat arbitrary; it originated in 1965 with the marketing of a pedometer sold in Japan under the name “10 000 steps meter.”
That number has become ingrained in our health consciousness, but it turns out that fewer steps may have benefits, which is great news if you struggle to meet the 10 000-step mark. A recent study found that in older women, 4 400 steps a day lowered mortality rates, compared with less active women, who took 2 700 steps. Another study in people ages 38 to 50 found that 7 000 steps was associated with a lower mortality rate. “If you’re looking at steps for improved health and better life expectancy, roughly 7 000 steps seems to be the sweet spot,” says Cheskin.
How many steps do you need for weight loss?
Although there’s no one-size-fits all recommendation because factors such as age, gender, and activity levels play a role in weight loss, one study showed that people who lost a greater than 10 percent weight loss over 18 months did about 10 000 steps per day. Another study found that 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity translated to about 7 900 steps for males and 8 300 steps for females.
But it’s not only the number of steps that count; duration and intensity are important, too. “It can’t just be a stroll from the kitchen to the bedroom. You need to walk at a pace that raises your heart rate,” says Wall. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity per week. Moderate-vigorous means it’s slightly difficult to talk, not that you’re panting and can barely take your next breath. To gauge intensity, the talk test is an easy way to tell if you’re in the zone. “It’s a self-perceived scale so you don’t need any special equipment,” says Wall. “You should be able to talk, but not in full sentences.”
Looking at the big picture matters, too, when it comes to making changes for weight loss. “Take a few days to monitor your habits,” says Cheskin. “Where do you stray? Identify small things that you can change. For example, instead of saying something vague like you’re going to eat better, tell yourself, ‘I’m going to eat a piece of fruit instead of cake.’ It’s the specific, measurable and trackable steps that help you lose weight along with moving more.”
Tips for incorporating more walking into your day:
“Start with one small modification at a time, whatever that looks like to you,” says Wall. “Consistency is what will give you gains over time.” It’s best to structure walks into your day, whether they’re 30 minutes or broken into smaller chunks, if that’s what fits into your schedule.
Get extra steps in by:
- Taking the stairs
- Going the long way to the bathroom
- Making multiple trips to the car for groceries
- Pacing when you talk on the phone
- Walking up and down along the sidelines at your kids’ activities
Using an inexpensive pedometer or a fitness tracker can be helpful, too, because you can plan walking breaks to meet your step goals. First, figure out how many steps you take over several days’ time with no walking for exercise. Let’s say you average 5 000 steps a day. Then measure the number of steps taken during a 10-minute walk. If that’s 1 000 steps, and you walk 20 minutes, that yields 2 000 steps. Add your average to your target number to get a daily step goal (5 000+ 2 000= 7 000 steps).
How can I stay motivated long-term?
It can be challenging if you feel like you’re not getting results after you start walking. But sticking with it is key—and you have to establish a habit before you get results, says Wall. Motivation also is about asking yourself what’s the value of walking versus not doing it? “Think about the benefits, such as improved overall health or being functional and pain-free, then focus on the weight loss,” says Wall. “It will come but you have to commit to the work, time and effort to get there.” As you achieve small wins, you’ll feel more confident about your goal, and your mental perspective changes to focus on how you feel when you’re more active, rather than what the scale says. That’s a healthier perspective for anyone.