How many steps should I walk in a day? Why 10,000 steps is not enough.


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10,000 steps is not enough

To start with I will openly state that I am not a personal trainer, or exercise physiologist. Rather I am writing this based on my experience as a dietitian in clinical practice working with individuals to adjust both their diet and activity levels in order to achieve weight loss.

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For a number of years now we have been told that we need to walk 10,000 steps every day. Over time this message has been translated into meaning we need to move 10,000 steps for weight loss, and as such many of us routinely record our steps and quickly become frustrated when we walk 10,000 steps but do not seem to lose weight.

The rather harsh reality of this is that 10,000 steps is not enough for weight loss. Moving this much is good for our heart; our fitness levels, our mood and body in general but if you goal is weight loss, the truth is that you are actually going to have to move a whole lot more. Here are the reasons why.

1. We sit down, a lot

Aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps a day is a simple and positive public health message and for the many of us who spend 8-12 hours a day sitting down, it helps to compensate for some of this sedentary behaviour, but not all of it. Walking for 60-90minutes per day, or the rough equivalent of 10,000 steps for the average person will support weight maintenance but in order to actually burn extra body fat and lose weight, we need to compensate for all the sitting and in addition burn a significant number extra calories each day. For most of us walking 10,000 steps is simply not enough for weight loss. 

2. Heart rate is rarely elevated

In order to burn a significant number of calories and ultimately increase metabolic rate via walking, we need heart rate to be elevated and elevated for a relatively long period of time. With the majority of people walking at an average pace as part of their 10,000 steps, heart rate is rarely significantly elevated for the 30-40 plus minutes required to significantly increase calorie burn. A stroll is good for us, but is unlikely to see significant drops on the scales unless you are significantly overweight and have many kilos to lose. 

3. We eat more when we think we are being active

In modern life, when sitting has become the norm, we psychologically reward ourselves when more food whenever we feel that we have been active. Even though our 10,000 steps is simply a balancing act for sitting, many of us see our 10,000 as health purism and as such give ourselves permission to eat higher calorie foods. The good old, ‘I have exercised today so I can have that glass of wine’ mentality kicks in. And as such the extra calories we consume very quickly undo any of the benefits gained from moving a little more in our day to day lives.

4. It is easy to eat more than we burn

If you consider that the average adult burns between 60-80 calories per hour sitting, and then 100-120 calories per hour when they are walking, albeit slowly, adding in an hour or two of extra movement per day to give you your 10000 steps will result in you burning an extra 100-200 calories per day. With a single Tim Tam offering 100 calories, you can see how easy it is to eat the calories you have burnt off walking your 10,000 steps. 

5. 10,000 means maintenance

The human body is designed to move. When we are very inactive, our metabolic rate drops and our cells become less efficient at burning calories, which is why we gain weight so easily when we sit down a lot. Moving for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day is a basic amount of activity the body requires to keep it functioning normally. Moving to promote fat burning and to burn a whole lot more calories means actual exercise, with an elevate heart rate and a step count of 15,000-20,000 per day, then you will start seeing results on the scales. 

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