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Walking for weight loss: What's the ideal step count?

Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can help you reach your weight loss goals.

Walking for Weight Loss: What's the Ideal Step Count? | Juniper

Even when you're fully aware that regular exercise helps prevent weight gain, finding time to fit it in can be tricky.

You lead a busy life with lots of responsibilities, we completely understand. But, we're also here to help get you on the right track when it comes to your health.

So, allow us to reacquaint you with what many consider to be the original form of exercise: walking. Not only is it a low-cost way to keep active, but it's also packed full of benefits for weight loss and your overall health.

In this article, we're answering all your pressing questions, like:

  • What is the ideal number of steps per day?
  • Should you be walking 10,000 steps to lose weight?
  • What are some other benefits of walking?
  • And, how can you make walking a regular part of your day?

Let's dive in.

How does walking help with weight loss?

The basic recipe for weight loss is to start burning more calories than you consume. For most people, that means changing their diet to help cut down on calories, as well as increasing their energy expenditure through exercise.

Walking is a great low-impact exercise that is accessible to almost everyone. There’s no special equipment required, no gym memberships to pay for, and it is safe at any age [4].

The many health benefits of walking

Losing weight may be one top benefit of your daily walk, but there’s so much more it can offer you.

Just an extra 15 minutes of walking per day can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, dementia, and stroke [2].

Walking is also recognised as a physical activity that can help you live longer.

In fact, research shows that in Blue Zones, where it is common to live to over 100 years old, older adults are more likely to walk throughout the day which is believed to play an important role in their longevity.

Plus, studies have shown other physical and mental health benefits to walking too, such as [4][5]:

  • Lower risks of depression
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved creativity
  • Better sleep
  • Maintained blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels

Now, you may be wondering how many steps are enough to reap all these benefits, which leads us to the next question...

10,000 steps a day: The magic number or just a myth?

We hate to burst your bubble, but the idea of walking 10,000 steps didn’t come from science — at least, not at first.

10,000 steps a day was first used in a marketing campaign for step counters in the lead-up to the 1964 Summer Olympics in Japan [3].

It was a cool campaign, but the number didn’t catch on right away. That happened much later when it was brought back as part of public health research in 2001.

Since then, 10,000 steps a day has remained popular because it’s easy to remember and has an impact. But, that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect number of steps for everyone.

Whether it’s due to a lack of time, fitness or confidence — this big number can feel intimidating. So, if you can’t fit 10,000 in, how many steps a day is enough for weight loss?

How many steps a day should you walk to lose weight?

Like we said earlier, the key to losing weight is fewer calories in, more calories burned — also known as a calorie deficit.

While 10,000 steps should burn plenty of calories, it’s not a reasonable target for everyone. It depends a lot on what your daily activity levels look like. There are 3 basic categories to know [6]:

  • A sedentary lifestyle is less than 5,000 steps a day
  • A low active lifestyle is 5,000-7,500 steps a day
  • An active lifestyle is 10,000 or more steps a day

The average person takes around 7,000 steps on a typical day. By adding an extra 30-minute walk, they can push this to 10,000 steps and enjoy an active lifestyle [3].

But, let’s say your usual step count is around 3,000 steps per day. By adding in a 30-minute walk, you can push that to around 7,000 and still reach your fitness goals.

Being realistic about your current fitness level makes it more likely that you'll stick to your new habit. And yes, it is possible to lose weight in less than 10,000 steps a day.

Focusing on sustainable weight loss

The recommended rate of weight loss is around 0.5-1kg per week. To achieve this, you can focus on consuming 250 calories less per day and burning 250 calories more per day [1].

How much walking is that?

Well, a 30-minute brisk walk is estimated to burn 150 calories, though it depends on the person. To reach 250 calories, that would be around 45-60 minutes of walking each day [1][7].

Remember, you don’t have to do it all in one go. You can break it up however you like. For example, taking a morning, afternoon, and evening walk of 15-20 minutes each.

Now, let’s turn that into a step count. A 30-minute walk is estimated to be 3,000-4,000 steps [6]. That means to burn your 250 calories, you'll need almost double, which is 6,000-8,000 steps per day.

Every step counts for a positive impact

While that’s a nice number of steps to aim for, it’s still only an estimate. And the truth is, doing something is always better than nothing.

For example, one study found that women who walked 5,000 steps per day had a lower risk of obesity than women who took fewer steps [3].

Another study showed that having at least 8,000 steps per day was enough to cut your risk of chronic diseases and it feels more attainable than walking 10,000 steps [4].

For best results, it’s also important to think of weight loss in the big picture. Walking is a great start, but other methods can help too.

For example, Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme takes a holistic approach to weight loss and offers full support along the way.

Members have access to dedicated medical and dietitian support, plus health coaching and an easy-to-use app for tracking progress, so they can reach their weight loss goals and maintain them in the long term. If you feel like you need an extra hand in your weight loss journey, our Weight Reset Programme might be something to consider.

Plus, if eligible, you can also get access to revolutionary weight loss medication (Wegovy or Mounjaro) that help your body maintain a lower weight by suppressing your appetite and making you feel fuller.

Does it matter how fast you walk?

When it comes to weight loss, walking speed is not the key ingredient. One study of postmenopausal women found that both slow and fast walkers were able to lose weight [1].

So, if it's not about how fast you walk, why do people say brisk walking is best?

Well, it comes down to getting enough moderate to vigorous intensity exercise in your week. National guidelines recommend either [5]:

  • 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week
  • 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week

Walking faster is one way to achieve this, but there are others including [7]:

  • Walking uphill or increasing the incline on a treadmill
  • Using interval training, like walking fast for one block, then slower for the next two
  • Adding light weights that you either carry or wear (also known as rucking)

How to count your daily steps

Now that you’ve settled on a nice round number, how will you know when you’ve reached it? Don’t worry — you don’t have to count out loud.

With all the tools and technology on your side, counting steps is simpler than ever [6].

Use your phone

Most smartphones already have a health and fitness app installed to track your daily steps. There’s also plenty to download if you have a preferred version.

Just remember to carry your phone on walks for accurate measurements.

Try an activity tracker

Next, there’s wearable trackers. The modern ones are known as activity trackers and they do more than count steps — like watching your heart rate and estimating calories burned.

The old-school version is a pedometer which is a more affordable option.

Time your walks

You might not have the funds to invest in a fitness tracker right now, which is totally fine. If you need to keep things free, just use time.

For every 30 minutes of walking, you're estimated to take 3,000-4,000 steps. While this method will be the least accurate, it’s not a bad way to get started.

4 tips for increasing your daily step count

It’s great that you’re thinking about walking more, both for your health and happiness. You might find it easy to start walking, then find motivation dips. Or maybe even getting started feels hard.

If that’s the case, here are 4 easy ways to boost your daily step volume.

Look for easy walking opportunities 

Making time for a 30-minute walk sounds easy, but on those busy days, it can be very hard.

A better approach is finding lots of little moments throughout your day to get more steps in. Here are 5 suggestions [2][5]: 

  1. Park 5 minutes from your destination and walk the rest of the way
  2. Get off public transport a few stops early
  3. Take the stairs as often as possible
  4. Plan a walking coffee catch-up with friends
  5. Walk over to your colleague’s desk instead of sending an email 

Create specific goals for yourself

One of the reasons so many of us fall short of our goals is that they are too broad, which makes them hard to achieve. 

For example, saying that you want to ‘get fitter’ or ‘lose weight’ are both admirable ideas. They’re just too vague [2].

Instead, you should create specific health goals that are measurable and have a clear finish line — giving you something to celebrate in the end. Examples include:

  • "I will walk for 10 minutes after each of my meals"
  • "I will complete a charity walk this year"
  • "I will keep an average of 8,000 steps per day this month"

Build a walking routine

On most days, you probably eat, shower, work, and relax at the same time. All of these things happen naturally because they form part of your routine.

Making exercise a part of your regular routine helps it become a natural part of your day. For example, you could try heading out for a short walk after lunch.

Make it fun

Variety is the spice of life, so try to mix up your weekly walks.

Whether that means listening to your favourite music, catching up on podcasts or heading to a new walking track — there are lots of ways to make your daily outing feel more fun.

Image credit: Getty Images