Lose Weight by Walking 10,000 Steps per Day

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Improving Your Health and Losing Weight by Walking 10,000 Steps per Day: Walking is a great way to get started with improving your health and losing weight. In order to increase your movement levels, you’ve likely heard the advice you should aim for 10,000 steps per day. While it’s a worthwhile goal, it might not be as important for your health as you think.

The concept of walking 10,000 steps was believed to originate in Japan during the 1960s and was later adopted in the United States, where today the average person walks fewer than 6,000 steps, explains Elroy Aguiar, Ph.D. a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “It was an arbitrary number greater than the average [number of steps] and it became the target without any scientific backing.”

While several studies have shown logging 10,000 steps is associated with significant health benefits, including lower levels of depression and anxiety, lower body mass index and waist circumference, improved glycemic control in those with Type 2 diabetes, reduced blood pressure and lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, your health might not be at risk if your step counts fall below the gold standard.

The Latest Research

A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the average step counts of more than 16,000 people and found those who walked just 5,000 steps per day were 41% less likely to die over the four-year study period compared to those who walked 2,700 steps.

Walking more than 5,000 steps helped lower the risk of all-cause mortality even further, but the benefits leveled off when walkers logged 7,500 steps. In other words, more steps did not equal better outcomes, according to lead researcher I-Min Lee, Ph.D., an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

What It Means for Your Health

You have to start somewhere, no matter what the exact step count is. “Don’t let the idea of getting 10,000 steps per day dissuade you from lacing up your sneakers,” says Lee. “If you are someone who is pretty sedentary, even a modest number of steps is associated with lower mortality.”

The goal is to work your way up to being more active. Aguiar suggests using a tracker to see how many steps you currently take each day and set a goal to increase that number. Even incremental changes can yield major results. Walking an extra 2,000 steps per day was associated with lowered blood pressure and weight loss.

Ultimately, “some activity is better than none for overall health,” says Aguiar. Rather than stressing about hitting 10,000 steps or 7,500 steps or even 5,000 steps, “what’s more important is setting personalized goals. Start small and build up to higher duration and intensity.” If you’re already hitting 10,000 steps a day, keep going. Find ways to challenge yourself whether it’s adding incline, changing the terrain or participating in a walking event.

Tracking Your Steps Might Help You Lose Weight

A new study published in the journal PLOS One found that those who wore pedometers were more active than those who walked without counting their steps.

Researchers followed 1,023 adults between the ages of 45–75 who were divided into two groups: A control group with no intervention and a group that received a pedometer and a journal to record their steps. The group with pedometers was asked to build up to walking an additional 3,000 steps per day most days of the week. At the end of the 12-week program, those who wore fitness trackers were taking more steps than those who didn’t track their steps.

“We think that the fitness tracker pedometers in our case helped people to see objectively exactly how much physical activity they were doing and to set themselves achievable targets for increasing their physical activity levels … and monitor that they were reaching them,” explains researcher Tess Harris, a professor of primary care research at St. George’s University of London.

The effect of wearing the pedometer lasted after the study ended. In fact, during a follow up four years later, the group that tracked their steps was still more active and leading healthier lifestyles than their non-tracking peers.   

Additional research supports the association between wearing a fitness tracker and increasing activity levels. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 26 studies and reported that, overall, exercisers who wore fitness trackers like pedometers increased their activity levels almost 27%.

Increased steps and weight loss

A study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, notes that fitness trackers if used for long periods of time, can lead to increased step counts and weight loss.

“Fitness trackers have the potential to impact behavior change because they encourage goal setting, monitor activity levels and give useful feedback about progress toward goals,” notes researcher Margie E. Lachman, a Ph.D. a psychology professor at Brandeis University.

The simple act of wearing a fitness tracker and setting a daily step goal is, well, a step in the right direction. Users can monitor their progress toward meeting that goal and kick their daily activities up a notch to experience the satisfaction of hitting it.

Quantifying Activity Levels

“Another reason trackers may encourage increased activity is likely the accessibility one has to their own physical activity data,” adds Alycia Sullivan Bisson, a Ph.D. candidate at Brandeis University and co-author of the Frontiers in Public Health study. “While those without a fitness tracker may not be able to easily quantify how active they are, people who own these devices are able to consistently monitor their activity levels on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis.”

Harris warns of a potential downside to wearing a fitness tracker: An obsession with step counts. Fretting over the number could make a walking workout feel like a chore. Instead of watching your step count inch higher, focus on having fun. Walk with friends or download a popular podcast and get caught up in the narrative while walking around the neighborhood.

While fitness trackers are excellent for counting steps, the high-tech tools don’t address issues that keep you from getting in a good workout in the first place such as lack of time or motivation.

Work to create a reasonable, feasible plan to address these factors, which can facilitate more regular exercise. Use [a fitness tracker] as a tool to monitor changes in physical activity, but don’t rely on it as a sole motivator to being active 🙂 🙂

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