Ten Thousand Steps A Day And You’re Still Fat

10,000 steps a day has been the “gold standard” daily step target for people seeking weight loss for years. Everyone from the “Biggest Loser” screamers to your doctor and even your FitBit have told you to get your “10K a day” in. But lots of “10k-ers” are still fat. Maybe there’s more to this…

Wouldn’t it be great if it really was that easy? Just walk 10,000 steps a day and weight loss is yours! What a wonderful world it would be!

Wake up. There are no magic bullets or simple formulas for weight loss. No one thing is “the key.” And new science backs that up in a big way.

Yes, there’s research showing some benefits to walking at least 7,500 steps a day. Most of those are general health benefits – better cardiovascular health, better insulin and hormonal balance and better overall mental health. But when it comes to preventing weight gain or spurring weight loss, there is no “magic number” of steps. At least not according to the folks at Brigham Young University.

Science types at BYU’s Exercise Science Department joined forces with their colleagues from the Nutrition, Dietetics & Food Science Department to dig in on this. They followed 120 freshmen during their first 6 months of college, engaging them in a step-counting experiment. The college frosh walked either 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps per day, 6 days a week for 24 weeks. During all that time and walking, researchers measured their caloric intake and weight.

The point of all this trucking and counting? To determine if progressively exceeding the generally recommended 10,000 step per day minimum (using 25% increments) would result in reduced weight and fat gain among the college freshmen in question.

The results? Not what most of us would hope. Even for students who walked more than the high end of 15,000 steps per day, weight gain still occurred. On average, American college students gain from 1 to 4 kg of weight during their first year at college. Students in the study gained an average of 1.5 kg during the 24 week study period. That’s roughly .6 pounds per month for those of you keeping score at home.


“Exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight,” said lead author Bruce Bailey, professor of exercise science at BYU. “If you track steps, it might have a benefit in increasing physical activity, but our study showed it won’t translate into maintaining weight or preventing weight gain.”

Just in case you’re thinking that maybe some of the kids slacked off, the pedometers they wore 24/7 during the study tell a different story. Students in the 10,000 step per day group averaged 11,066 steps during the study period. The 12,500 step group averaged 13,638 steps a day and the 15,000 step group came in at 14,557 steps a day. Slackers. Prior to the study, all students averaged about 9,600 steps a day.

There is positive news, however. While weight wasn’t positively affected, physical activity patterns were. That reality “may have other emotional and health benefits,” study authors said. The 12,500 and 15,000 step groups saw their sedentary time reduced significantly, by as much as 77 minutes per day. Good news, indeed.

“The biggest benefit of step recommendations is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle,” Bailey. “Even though it won’t prevent weight gain on its own, more steps is always better for you.”

Should you toss your FitBit or exercise tracker and blow off trying to get your “10K a day?” Not hardly! Having an activity target is more likely to keep you moving. That, in turn will keep you healthier and happier. When it comes time to drop a few pounds, though, remember that there’s more to that than just getting your steps in.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Related stories:
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Story Source: Brigham Young University

Journal Reference – Bruce W. Bailey, Ciera L. Bartholomew, Caleb Summerhays, Landon Deru, Sharla Compton, Larry A Tucker, James D. LeCheminant, Joseph Hicks. The Impact of Step Recommendations on Body Composition and Physical Activity Patterns in College Freshman Women: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Obesity, 2019; 2019: 1 DOI: 10.1155/2019/4036825

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