How Many Steps Do You Really Need A Day?
Have you set a goal to walk 10,000 steps a day? You’ve probably heard from fitness pros and even your doctor that walking 10,000 steps per day will keep your heart healthy, help you lose weight, and boost your fitness level. And it’s true: walking 10,000 steps per day is a good amount to strive for in order to stay healthy. But when it comes to actually losing weight from walking, there are other factors involved. Are you consistently moving throughout the day or just crashing on the couch after those 10,000 steps are reached? How fast are you walking, and at what intensity? It turns out that speed, intensity, and consistency actually matter more than just a number of you’re serious about weight loss. Let’s explore where the idea of 10,000 steps came from and the other factors you may need to consider if you really want to change your body.
Why 10,000 Steps?
10,000 steps isn’t a magical number. In fact, its origins date back to a 1960s marketing campaign (sigh…doesn’t everything?) Shortly after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games (and partially because of excitement generated by the events) consumers in Japan started snatching up a pedometer called the manpo meter. The word “manpo” translates to 10,000 steps. Japanese fitness enthusiasts began to count their daily 10,000 steps to boost their health.
Image Credit: Yamasa Tokei
In recent years (and since the rise of Fitbits and other wearable activity trackers) researchers have studied that recommendation and found that indeed, walking ten thousand steps per day can boost heart health and improve overall wellness—with two caveats.
Firstly, since not everyone is a walker, most health experts and organizations (like the American Heart Association) have now expanded the recommendation to simply ask that you participate in 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, whether it’s walking, swimming, biking, or another form of cardiovascular exercise. Secondly, if serious weight loss is your goal, don’t confuse the 10,000 steps recommendation with a serious weight loss program. While getting in your steps is important, the speed and intensity with which you move will matter more than a particular number when weight loss is your goal.
3 Things To Add To Your Walking Program To Lose Weight
When you start a walking program, you should first focus on building a consistent program to just get in the habit of walking. If you’re currently sedentary, start your program by trying to walk for 15-20 minutes most days of the week. Gradually build upon that until you are walking almost every day. Then slowly add minutes to your session until you are walking for 30-40 minutes on most days.
Once you’ve got a regular walking program in place, add these three challenges to make your walking program especially effective. By incorporating theses three factors to your walks, you’ll lose weight, tone up, and start to see real changes in your body.
There is scientific evidence to suggest that people who walk at a brisk pace live longer than those who walk at a more leisurely pace (slower than a 24-minute mile). While we don’t know for certain that walking faster makes you live longer, it’s a great incentive to challenge yourself and burn a few extra calories. If you don’t have a fitness tracker that displays walking speed, you can check your pace manually. See how long it takes to walk a course and challenge yourself to decrease the time by thirty seconds, then one minute, then two minutes.
If you’re walking outdoors, try to find some hills in your neighborhood to work with; even a slight incline is fine to start with. If you’re stuck inside on a treadmill, use technology to make your workout more effective. Set the speed to a comfortable walking pace, then add incline to make the workout harder. A 135-lb woman who burns 310 calories walking on a level surface will burn an extra 70 calories by adding a 7% incline.
Studies have shown that walking intervals are a more effective way to burn calories, so don’t be afraid to mix up your pace every few minutes or so, alternating from a brisk pace to a full-out power walk and back again. One study conducted at Ohio State University found that walkers who varied their pace burned 20 percent more calories than those who walked at a steady pace.
Lastly, if your goal is weight loss, try to set a steps-per-day goal that is independent of exercise. For example, if you set a goal to walk 10,000 steps per day, you might reach that goal with an early morning jog. But that doesn’t mean you should sit on the couch for the rest of the day. Reaching that 10,000 steps marker is not an excuse to be sedentary for the rest of the day. You should incorporate movement into your entire day if you want to live longer, lose weight, and get in shape.
Still Not Convinced You Should Be Walking? Don’t Forget These Walking Benefits…
No matter how many steps you travel, there are so many amazing benefits of walking workouts. Decreased stress, an increased metabolism, and improved lower body strength top the list.
- Lower stress level. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise can help to improve your outlook on life and decrease stress levels. If you walk outdoors as often as possible you’ll be able to enjoy not only the fresh air, but also a fresh outlook.
- Improved metabolism. A 140-pound woman burns about 130 calories during a brisk 30-minute walk. That’s about 100 calories more than she would burn sitting in front of a television or working at her desk at the office. If you walk for 30 minutes every day, your weekly calorie expenditure would increase by a whopping 700 calories with a daily walk.
- Greater range of motion in the hips. The movement generated by striding forward requires both flexion and extension in the hip joint. Many of our typical daily activities require flexion only at the hip joint. The extension (the part of your walking stride when your leg moves behind your body) helps to improve hip flexibility and overall range of motion in the lower body.
- Improved strength. Want stronger legs and a tighter backside? Walking engages the quadriceps, the hamstrings and the gluteal muscles. If you walk with good posture you can also engage and strengthen the abdominal area.