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Take More Steps a Day to Get Leaner and Healthier

Walking more – somewhere around 10,000 steps per day – will help you burn more body fat and improve overall health.

8 ways to increase number of steps per day

You may have heard that you should be getting in 10,000 steps a day for optimal health. That number, however, has little hard science to back it up as the true barometer for enhancing health and longevity.

True story: The 10,000 steps comes more from the name of the first pedometer that was developed in Japan in 1965. The company gave it a name that literally meant “the 10,000-step meter” – possibly because the Japanese characters for 10,000 looks like a man walking.

That said, there is evidence that 10,000 steps a day turns out to be pretty close to a proper goal. One study in Scottish postal workers showed that those walking 15,000 steps a day at work had fewer risk factors for heart disease than those who sat at work. While that’s a bit over 10,000, there was no comparison to lower step levels.

One recent study from Harvard, however, did compare different levels of steps taken in elderly women. They reported that those taking 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates during a follow-up of over four years than the least active women in the study, who averaged only 2,700 steps.

The researchers also found that the benefits increased linearly with the number of steps taken, up until 7,500 steps per day. In other words, the study questions whether going up to 10,000 steps (or more) provides any additional health benefits above those provided with 7,500 steps.

Whether you’re shooting for 10,000 steps, 15,000 steps, or far fewer, in this article I’ll teach you how to determine the best goal for you to not only optimize your health but also to help lose more body fat.

Don’t Be Average

The average American walks 1.5 to 2 miles in a typical day, which works out to around 3,000 to 4,000 steps. To see where you fall in a typical day is easy as looking at your phone; most smart phones have an app built in that provides a pedometer to track steps and miles walked.

Take a look back at what your average daily steps/miles are per week or per month. Most smart phones allow you several options to analyze the steps data. Your average will serve as your baseline number to beat most days of the week.

Of course, to get an accurate step count, you’ll have to have your phone on your person the entire day. If you leave your phone sitting somewhere (on your desk, in your car, on your kitchen table, etc.) while you’re up walking around, those steps won’t be counted.

If you prefer not to have your phone on you 24/7, you might consider getting a Fitbit or Apple Watch that you can wear on your wrist all day.

Step Up to Results

Once you have your baseline number of steps/miles, set a goal initially to beat that baseline number by about 2,000 steps or 1 mile for most days of the week (at least four of the seven days). You can increase that goal every 1 to 2 weeks by another 2,000 steps or 1 mile.

One caveat here: Don’t increase your step goal too rapidly. Get too ambitious too soon, and you could risk overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other lower limb and back issues. And that will temporarily lower your step count as you recover. Take it slow and progressive.

Step Off the Fat

Another reason to increase your steps gradually is to take advantage of the fat-loss benefits that the extra physical activity will provide. When you diet to lose body fat and drop calories, your body gradually adapts to the lower calorie intake by getting more efficient, and eventually, you stop losing fat.

Typically, you have to lower calories when you hit a fat-loss plateau. However, instead of changing your diet by just gradually decreasing calories, you can also gradually increase the calories you burn by progressively adding more steps. This can keep your diet’s current level of calories and macros the same for longer before having to cut again.

If you drop calories in your diet too much, it eventually gets difficult to continue making more gradual cuts to keep the fat loss coming. Consider this same thing with your steps: If you increase them too much in one fell swoop, it gets difficult to add more steps in your day due to the time commitment. So again, to aid fat loss, increase your steps gradually.

Although the number of steps it takes to walk a mile varies from person to person, depending on your height and stride length, for every extra mile or 2,000 steps you cover, you can assume you’ve burned about an extra 100 calories. It’s not that much, but it adds up, especially when you’re on a low-calorie diet.

It’s also important to remember that the impact of physical activity on fat loss is not just from the extra calories burned during the activity, but also from the extra calories burned after the exercise for recovery. This is known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), aka, “after burn,” and it can add up to far more than just the 100 calories burned doing those 2,000 steps.

This is why short hours of intense activity burn off so much fat. The general rule for getting EPOC up is that the more intense the activity is, the higher and longer the after burn. So make sure some of your mileage is more intense (think power walking or even running), rather than all of it being just random bouncing around doing errands.

3 Reasons to Walk More

Using walking to simultaneously stay healthier and leaner is smart for numerous reasons:

1. Convenience

You don’t need anything to do it other than your legs. In fact, walking is the oldest and most critical form of physical activity. In ancient times, it allowed humans to migrate, catch food, and escape from predators.

2. Trackability

Your smartphone (or Apple Watch or Fitbit) makes it easy to get an accurate measurement of how much work you’re doing. And you can see the data in numerous forms.

3. Muscle Growth

Walking is actually a form of resistance training for the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and other lower body muscles. Add positive resistance by increasing the elevation you walk. Or, add negative resistance by walking down a decline. Both can help to build more lean muscle mass in the lower body, as well as adding strength and power, all while improving overall health and well-being.

8 Ways to Add More Walking to Your Day

It’s easy to add extra steps/miles to your day. Try these ideas:

1. Walk to Warm Up

Take a brisk power walk as part of your general warm-up before a workout.

2. Walk Between Sets

Instead of sitting or standing between sets in the gym, walk! If the gym is too busy to risk losing your space, run in place – even though you’re not covering any ground, those steps count, too.

3. Walk to Cool Down

Follow your intense workouts with a moderate walk to bring heart rate and respiratory rate down.

4. Park Far Away

Instead of circling for the closest spot in the parking lot, drive to the far end and walk. Or even park a quarter- or half-mile away from appointments.

5. Walk the Dog

Kill two birds with one stone. Man’s best friend also benefits greatly from more walking.

6. Use the 30/60 Rule

At work or home, after every 30 minutes of sitting, walk around for at least 1 minute. This follows my 30/60 Rule that I've been talking about for years. And why is this rule important? Because Sitting is the New Smoking – seriously! 

7. Walk and Talk

Your phone is called a “mobile phone” for a reason. Walk around when you’re on a call chatting with friends or colleagues.

8. Walk and Talk… in Person

Walking with your significant other, best friend, family member, or a co-worker makes a great way to connect about personal matters, professional strategies, or any other important topic, all while getting in more steps together.

 

References:

Tigbe, W.W., et al. Time spent in sedentary posture is associated with waist circumference and cardiovascular risk. Int J Obes (Lond)

Lee, I-M, et al. Association of step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older women. JAMA Intern Med 179(8):1105-1112, 2019.

 





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