10,000 Steps And Weight Loss

Ten years ago, you probably did not have a clue how many steps you took on a daily basis. You probably had an idea whether you were active or not during the day, most often determined by the tasks you were doing at work, but you could not tell whether you took 7000 or 11,000 steps for a given day. Today, with the rise of phones, watches and fitness trackers that can monitor our step count, many people are aware of the total number of steps they are taking each and every day.

As we have gained the ability to quantify our daily steps, we have also been provided with a benchmark of 10,000 steps, which has become one of the most recognised health messages of the past ten years. But do we need to make 10,000 steps a daily priority, or should we place an emphasis on other aspects of physical activity before worrying about our step count?

10,000 Steps Is Going To Require Additional Walking

The first challenge of a 10,000 step target is that most people do not achieve it through their daily activities. Research from the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation found that most people fall short of the target by 3000 to 6000 steps each day, depending on their lifestyle. Lifestyle and workplace modifications are therefore required to attain the extra steps and reach the 10,000 step target.

The first place to start is by increasing non-exercise physical activity, which will also increase energy expenditure via non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This could be simple things such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking around the office every hour, or parking further from the office to make a longer walk into work. Generally speaking, your ability to increase steps during the day will be limited by your employment — if you are someone who works at a desk, there is only so much time you can allocate to taking additional steps during the day.

This means that the bulk of remaining steps will be filled up with additional walking, be it to the car, a walk in the morning, at lunchtime or in the evening. Increasing physical activity through walking is a great way to begin allocating time to exercising and building a routine, and often plays a large role in the early stages of a training program. However, we then aim to replace these walking sessions with other types of training that can elicit a wider range of adaptations in equivalent session time.

Walking Is Low Intensity

Walking is a low-intensity form of physical activity, which minimises the potential adaptations compared to other training options. Of course, you can increase the intensity of walking by scaling hills and using forms of resistance, but these are rarely used by those who want to avoid sweating, particularly when walking around work times.

Many people would get better results by allocating time to moderate and high-intensity exercise, instead of increasing their step count. An extra 30 minutes of walking every day might boost your step count from 7000 to 10,000 while burning an additional 150 calories, which equates to an additional 1050 kcal of energy expenditure from 3.5 hours of activity. The same amount of energy could be burned in 2 hours of moderate-high intensity exercise, such as running, resistance and interval training.

While walking more is often a good idea, you need to consider whether it is the best idea for your goals, experience and lifestyle.

Step Targets Are Still Useful

Even if we have other activity prioritised above 10,000 steps per day, a step target is a great way to break up sedentary behaviour during the day and while increasing NEAT. You might consider using a daily step target that you find reflects a good goal for your lifestyle. Alternatively, you can use an hourly step target to break up sedentary behaviour throughout the day. Many activity trackers can be set up to monitor these targets across the day.

I personally use a 250 step target per hour. If I have not been active during that, my watch vibrates at 10-minutes to the hour and displays the number of steps remaining to hit my target. I can then hit this step target in the next 10-minutes, or if I cannot step away from what I am doing, I will let it go. While 250 steps per hour from 9am — 5pm is only a target of 2000 steps, the emphasis is on breaking up sedentary behaviour throughout the day.

It Depends On You

There is nothing magical about 10,000 steps per day and the primary objective of this target is to increase physical activity. When it comes to allocating additional time to exercise, you need to consider whether walking is the most-effective option for your goals, experience and lifestyle. For some people in the early stage of developing a new training regime, increased walking is a great way to build up their new routine.

However, many intermediate and experienced trainees will see relatively minor results from an increased step count. They will be better off focusing on increasing moderate and high-intensity physical activity throughout the week.

An example I often give to my clients is someone parking their car 15-minutes away from work, to give them an extra 30 minutes of walking each work day. If the same person parked their car under the office, this would free up 30-minutes each day that they could use for higher-intensity physical activity such as gym, running or cycling.

My Recommended Priorities

  • Do your exercise to increase fitness and energy expenditure

  • Take 250 steps per hour to minimise sedentary behaviour

  • 10,000 steps per day to increase NEAT

Tom Fitzgerald