The 10,000 steps myth and how to actually lose weight by walking
- To lose weight by
walking, you have to burn off an extra 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week.
- Most people burn around 300 to 400 calories by walking 10,000 steps.
- Experts recommend gradually increasing steps, aiming for an extra 1,000 steps per day each week.
Thomas Hirai, MD, medical director at the bariatric and metabolic
"The goal of 10,000 steps came about as it was catchy, easy to remember, and above the average daily steps for most people," Hirai says. "It was challenging but achievable to many people."
How many steps you walk per day is just one aspect of losing weight. Learn more about how to track calories burned from walking and why 10,000 steps can help you reach your goal weight but it won't always guarantee
How many calories do 10,000 steps burn?
Most people burn 30-40 calories per 1,000 steps they walk, meaning they'll burn 300 to 400 calories by walking 10,000 steps, Hirai says. However, this is just an estimate. Each step you take burns calories, but the exact amount is highly individualized.
"Calorie burn rate can be quite variable," he says. Your weight, stride length, and fitness level will affect your calorie burn, as will your pace and the incline of the area you're walking in, he says.Quick tip: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people get 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense exercise, which includes walking.
To get a more personal assessment of calorie burn, Hirai recommends using a measurement called metabolic equivalent, or METs. One MET is the energy it takes to sit still.
Walking briskly at just over 3 miles an hour is about 3.5 METs, while walking uphill is about 6 METs, Hirai said. Therefore, to calculate the calories you burn with METs, use the following equation:
Energy expenditure (in kcal/min) = 0.0175 x MET x weight (in kg)
To calculate your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. So, a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) and walks on a flat surface at a pace of 3 mph, using about 3.5 METs, would burn approximately 4 calories per minute. At 3 miles per hour, it would take around 100 minutes to walk about 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles), so they would burn roughly 400 calories.
Many people today use apps or smartwatches to calculate their steps and calorie burn, but Hirai says it's good to double-check those numbers with the equation above to get a more accurate picture.
"An important thing to remember is not to rely solely on these calculators, as you can over or underestimate the calories you consume or burn," he says. "But they are helpful as they can help track your progression and provide consistency."
While 10,000 steps daily is a good goal, Hirai says the key to maintaining your goal weight and living a healthy lifestyle is to get moving consistently.
Can walking 10,000 steps daily help you reach your goal weight?
To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you eat. Most people require a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound a week. People looking to lose weight or maintain weight loss should get at least 150 to 200 minutes of exercise per week, and walking 10,000 steps per day can help to achieve those goals.Note: People in a weight loss program who walked 10,000 steps per day were more likely than those who walked 3,500 steps per day to lose more weight, a 2018 study found.
Still, you're more likely to lose weight if you also focus on eating healthy, Hirai says.
"Weight loss through exercise becomes a lot more effective when combined with a supervised diet strategy," he says.
Is walking 10,000 steps safe?
Walking is considered one of the easiest and safest ways to exercise. However, if you don't currently exercise, jumping into 10,000 steps a day could lead to injury, Hirai says.
"It is helpful to increase the number of steps per day and stay as active as possible, but it is equally important to prevent injuries as one embarks on his or her journey towards weight loss," he says.
People who are severely overweight, elderly, or who have other health concerns should be particularly cautious. Hirai recommends that people gradually increase their steps, aiming for an extra 1,000 steps per day each week until they reach their goal.Important: If you don't currently exercise, jumping into 10,000 steps a day could lead to injury. Experts recommend that people gradually increase their steps, aiming for an extra 1,000 steps per day each week until they reach their goal.
On the other hand, when people consistently achieve their goal of walking 10,000 steps per day, they can swap walking for an activity with a higher MET, like jogging or swimming, for increased calorie burn, Hirai says.
Research shows that taking more steps per day may reduce mortality from any cause. However, the benefit of more steps plateaus at 7,500 steps per day — beyond that, you're not getting added benefit if you reach 10,000, the researchers found.
The advice to walk 10,000 steps per day started is a marketing slogan, not science. However, science has shown that more movement — which can be measured by more steps — is important for health.
Overall, adopting an active, healthy lifestyle is the best way to achieve lasting weight loss, Hirai says. Challenging yourself to reach 10,000 steps might be part of that, but any exercise routine that you will do consistently is a good choice, he says.
"In reality, there may be no magic number," Hirai says.
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