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- According to a new study published in the Journal of Obesity, getting 10,000 steps (or more) per day won’t necessarily prevent weight gain.
- However, walking this number of steps each day decreases sedentary time and increases moderate activity, which comes with health benefits like better heart health and emotional wellbeing.
Although previous research has questioned whether 10,000 steps per day should really be the gold standard of walking activity, it’s remained a daily milestone for many. A new study suggests there’s no need to abandon the number, since it does come with some benefits—but it also suggests preventing weight gain isn’t one of them.
Research published in the Journal of Obesity details an experiment following 120 freshman at Brigham Young University (BYU) who walked either 10,000, 12,500, or 15,000 steps daily for six days a week during their first six months of college. The students tracked their steps using a pedometer.
The study’s goal was to evaluate whether exceeding 10,000 steps would minimize the kind of weight and fat gain that is common for freshmen, especially in their first few months of school. The result? Not so much—the average weight gain for the students was 3.5 pounds.
The reason why higher levels of activity didn’t translate to a more protective effect wasn’t part of the study, but lead author Bruce Bailey, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at BYU, told Runner’s World that those results are consistent with past research.
“Physical activity generally produces only small amounts of weight loss, and some studies didn’t see even that,” he said, adding that preventing weight gain, particularly with this population, will require more research—especially with eating pattern changes, and over a longer period of time.
However, just because many participants gained weight doesn’t mean they weren’t seeing benefits from being more active, Bailey added. He said that those who managed to reach 15,000 steps per day were getting in at least an hour more of active time during their days than when they started.
“Going beyond 10,000 steps per day decreases sedentary time and increases moderate activity, which may have benefits that go beyond weight,” he said. “There are many emotional and health advantages to keeping up that level of activity.”
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Previous research confirms that assumption. A 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine on older women found that as few as 4,400 steps daily was associated with lower mortality rates compared to those who were more sedentary—and that the higher the step count, the more that mortality decreased before leveling off at 7,500 steps.
Additional research, from 2010 in Current Opinion in Cardiology, found there are consistent associations between walking and better cardiovascular health for people of any age, both healthy and with heart conditions.
As for how fast you should be walking to see these health benefits? A 2019 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine discovered that walking at 100 or more steps per minute counts as moderate-intensity physical activity, while 130 or more steps per minute counts as vigorous physical activity. And according to the current U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
In general, though, if you’re looking to slow or stop weight gain, increasing your steps alone might not be the best strategy. But as an overall health booster? Walk on.