10,000 steps is a popular daily target, but if you’re walking for weight loss it’s only one step toward reaching your goal. 10,000 steps will almost certainly fulfill your recommended daily walking requirements for health and fitness and it does burn a fair amount of calories. Not every 10,000 step day is created equal, however, and it’s always going to be easier to eat more calories than you burn. To hit your weight loss goals, you’ll need to understand what 10,000 steps does and doesn’t do for your health.
Here are 3 benefits 10,000 steps does give you, 4 things you won’t necessarily get from 10,000 steps, plus quick tips on how to get more intense and eat better to help speed up your weight loss progress.
What 10,000 steps does do
Health & fitness
10,000 steps per day will take you past both the minimum recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. Better still, you’ll almost certainly get more than the recommended 60 minutes per day for additional health benefits. 10,000 steps per day works out to 4-5 miles, which takes about an hour and a half at a brisk, 3 mph pace. You won’t get all of your daily steps from brisk fitness walking, but the overall effort should easily cover your basic fitness needs.
That 10,000 steps will give you many benefits over and above calorie burn and weight loss. Walking is good for your heart and cholesterol levels, and can even boost your immune system. You’ll feel better too because walking helps boost your mood and increase your energy and creativity. It is important to note that these benefits accrue on a continuum – it’s not the case that with 9,999 steps you miss out but that 10,000th step puts you over the hump. Still, if you can make 10,000 steps you’re likely getting close to the maximum benefits of walking.
10,000 steps adds up to a fair amount of calories burned through walking. A 155 pound person burns about 232 calories per hour at 3 mph, while a 205 pound person burns around 307 calories per hour. If your 10,000 steps takes an hour and a half of walking, that works out to around 350 calories (at 155 pounds) to 450 calories (at 205 pounds).
It’s still quite easy to eat back those calories burned, but if you can keep your diet steady then an extra 100 or 200 calories burned per day can really add up over time. Because walking is a low-impact form of exercise, you can do it every day. Higher impact exercise, like running or team sports, are hard for many people to do on a regular basis (if at all). Slow and steady really is the way to go for weight loss, and you can always supplement your walking with other activities if you want to.
Build healthy habits
The effort that you put into walking 10,000 steps per day will almost certainly spill over into other aspects of your life. Just to make the time to get your steps you’ll likely need to cut out periods of prolonged sitting or sedentary behavior. As your fitness and endurance improves, you’ll be more able to try other forms of exercise (like yoga, jogging, or strength training) if you want to. For many, the focus and planning that it takes to maintain your 10,000 steps can be directed to improve other life areas as well.
You can also use the momentum you get from hitting 10,000 per day to motivate you to eat better as well. While you clearly can out-eat 10,000 steps, the effort that you put into hitting your goal can be a powerful motivator not to do so. You simply won’t feel at your best and it will be harder to get to 10k if you’re constantly snacking on junk food.
What 10,000 steps doesn’t do
Fix your diet
If weight loss is your goal and 10,000 steps still isn’t moving the needle, it’s time to look at what you’re eating. It’s always easier to eat calories than it is to burn them off – even at 10,000 steps. It’s usually never a bad idea to eat healthier anyway, and it works in combination with exercising more.
Make sure that you don’t end up eating more to compensate for all the walking you’re doing. Many people eat a snack before and after and their walks, plus reward themselves with treats for hitting their fitness goals. All of those snacks or small meals can easily outpace the additional calories you burn. People often mistake being thirsty for being hungry, so staying hydrated and drinking a lot of water can help avoid over-snacking around exercise.
It’s all about the increase
Going from 5,000 steps per day to 10,000 steps will have a bigger impact on your weight loss progress than going from 9,000 steps to 10,000 steps. Losing weight means burning more calories, eating fewer calories or both together. If you’re already at or close to 10,000 steps and you’re not seeing weight loss progress, you’ll need to either boost your steps even more, get more intense with the steps you have, or eat better.
Not every 10,000 step day is created equal. If you’re able to hit 10,000 steps, at any speed or intensity, you’ve likely reached your recommended fitness goals. If you’re looking to get even more fit, or lose stubborn weight, you may need to kick up to a higher intensity level than leisurely walking. While few people get all of their steps through incline walking or power walking, for instance, those walking styles could help you burn more calories even if you can’t increase your step count.
For most people, hitting 10,000 is enough to meet their health goals. If you’ve hit 10,000 steps and you feel you can do more, or if you have more ambitious goals, you’ll want to go beyond the 10k number and look at intensity (or cross training).
Most health organizations recommend at least some strength and/or flexibility exercise in addition to cardio (like walking). While walking will work the muscles of your legs, doing dedicated leg exercises can help you build and maintain muscle mass. Building muscle can help boost your metabolism slightly, and functional strength is always useful throughout the day. Staying flexible can help you avoid injuries, and a combination of strength and flexibility is simply useful in your daily life.
Some basic bodyweight exercises are a great place to start (check Pacer’s workouts for some you can do at home). There are also plenty of stretches and exercise routines you can do right from the comfort of your home. Mixing other forms of exercise into your walking routine can help keep your days fun and interesting, while giving you additional health and fitness benefits.
Get more intense
Hitting 10,000 steps isn’t the end of your fitness journey. You can increase your pace and intensity to burn more calories and maximize the health benefits of your walks.
While 10,000 steps is great at any speed, you can burn more calories in less time by increasing your walking speed. We should note that while your calories burned per hour goes up as you walk faster, you may hit 10,000 steps faster. That means less time walked and less of a calorie burn increase than you might think. The good news is that by walking faster, you’ll have the time to get even more than 10,000 steps, or do another fitness activity like strength training or yoga to burn even more calories.
By increasing your walking speed from 3 mph to 4 mph (about 4.8 to 6.4 km/h), you can increase the amount of calories you burn per hour by more than 50%! You can increase your calorie burn even more by adding jogging to your walking routine, but you don’t have to! Speed walking or power walking can effectively boost your calorie burn while remaining lower impact.
Add an incline
You can dramatically increase your intensity and calorie burn simply by walking on an incline. Incline walking can boost your calorie burn by 50%, and it’s a great workout for your quads and glutes in particular. If you have access to a treadmill, you can simply set your treadmill on incline and do your entire walk uphill. Walking on hilly terrain is the next best thing, but you’ll need to find a route with enough hills to get a great working.
Walking stairs is even more intense than walking on an incline, and can more than double your calorie burn. Stairs put more impact on your joints, however, and it’s not always easy to find stairs that are long enough to use during an outdoor walk. By taking the stairs instead of the elevator when you can, you can get a bit of a stair workout in your daily life. If you’re stuck inside on a rainy day or you have a short amount of time, walking a few flights can really add up.
Whether your walking goal is weight loss or general health and fitness, eating better is good for your body and helps you feel your best. Since you’re putting so much effort into hitting 10,000 steps, put a little effort into eating better so that all that walking can work for you even more.
Swap out obvious bad choices
It’s fine to enjoy an occasional treat, but chances are that if you think hard enough you can identify some foods that you eat regularly that you know are unhealthy. Liquid calories, like soda and sugary juices, and snacks like chips, crackers or cookies are common calorie sinks. There are plenty of other foods that may seem healthy, but actually aren’t. Check into the calorie counts of your favorite foods and snacks to make sure you understand what you’re eating.
Swap out soda and even juices for water, or try black coffee or unsweetened tea if you find you need a caffeine boost. Sodas in particular are completely empty calories, with little in the way of nutrition. Salty snacks in particular are often hard to stop eating, and their serving sizes are much smaller than you might think. Try to swap out some of these for low-calorie snacks that are high in fiber to keep you feeling full longer.
Fix your portions
Even if you’re making healthy choices, eating too much food or eating food in the wrong proportions can derail your healthy eating plan. For meals, half your plate should be green veggies, with about a quarter protein and a quarter starchy carbs. Too often meals are half protein, half starchy carbs with a tiny sliver of veggies or no veggies at all.
Go beyond the basic calorie count on packaged foods and make sure you note the serving size of your favorite treats. Serving sizes are often much lower than you might think (like one cookie). Understanding proper portions of common meal elements, like meat and pasta, can help you ensure that you’re not overfilling your plate on a regular basis.
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