Study Finds 10,000 Steps a Day Won’t Prevent Weight Gain and It’s Not a Surprise
For many years now, 10,000 steps a day has been touted as a technique to lose weight and prevent weight gain. But says a new Brigham Young University (BYU) study, 10,000 steps—or any other number— will not do the trick. Researchers from BYU's exercise science department, along with colleagues from the nutrition, dietetics & food science department, studied 120 freshmen’s first six months of college, while they participated in a step-counting experiment. The participants walked either 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps a day, six days a week for 24 weeks, while researchers tracked their caloric intake and weight.
The researchers wanted to evaluate if progressively exceeding the recommended step count of 10,000 steps per day (in 25% increments) would minimise weight and fat gain.
However, it didn't matter how many steps the students walked. Even if they walked more than 15,000 steps, they still gained weight. During the period under study, the students gained on an average of about 1.5kg. According to previous studies, during the first academic year of college, students gained an average of 1kg-4kg.
"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." On an average, the students walked approximately 9,600 steps per day prior to the study.
Although the increased walking failed to control weight, there were obviously emotional and other health benefits. For example, one outcome of the study was that sedentary time was drastically reduced in both the 12,500-step and 15,000-step groups. In the 15,000-step group, sedentary time decreased by as much as 77 minutes a day.
Why do people believe that 10,000 steps a day will promote weight loss or even prevent weight gain? Because of widespread false belief that exercise helps weight reduction. We will quote a passage from Why We Get Fat and What To Do about It, by Gary Taubes. “As it turns out, very little evidence exists to support the belief that the number of calories we expend has any effect on how fat we are. In August 2007, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) addressed this evidence in a particularly damning manner when they published joint guidelines on physical activity and health.
“The ten expert authors included many of the pre-eminent proponents of the essential role of exercise in a healthy lifestyle. Put simply, these were people who really want us to exercise and might be tempted to stack the evidence in favor of our doing so. Thirty minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity, they said, five days a week, was necessary to maintain and promote health.
“But when it came to the question of how exercising affects our getting fat or staying lean, these experts could only say: It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”