Step counters and other tools that measure your physical activity keep getting more popular. All these extra steps are great but how many steps a day do you have to take for weight loss?
Focusing on getting extra steps in each day is a great way to build momentum. You start taking the stairs more instead of the elevator, you stand up from your desk more,…
That being said, how many steps does it take to lose weight and are there better methods for losing weight?
What needs to happen to lose weight?
One of the first things people think of when you say weight loss is exercise. While moving more can help you lose weight this association can distract people from other important things.
Your body needs energy to function. It gets this energy, measured in calories, from food. When your body absorbs more calories from food than it uses you story this energy. Both as glycogen and body fat.
To reverse this process, to get rid of body fat, you need to absorb less calories from food than your body uses. When this happens your body gets the extra energy by using body fat and glycogen from your muscles.
Moving more, by for example taking more steps each day, can increase the amount of energy you use. With this in mind you can learn how many calories extra steps burn and how that amount compares to other workouts and the amount of energy in food.
How many calories do you burn per extra step?
The exact amount of course varies on other things like activity levels, body composition, hormone levels,…
That means that 1000 steps will burn an extra 40 calories. 10.000 steps, which is about 4.6 miles at 3.5 mph, an extra 400 calories.
If you start using a step counter you need to keep in mind that you were already doing steps before you started counting. To burn extra calories you need to make extra steps.
It’s easy to fall in the trap of “I did 10.000 steps today so I can eat 400 calories more than usual”. You need to know how many extra steps you did on top of your normal routine to know how many extra calories you can eat.
That being said, you can build up a nice amount of extra calorie burning if you keep this routine up every day of the week. Whether this becomes weight loss or not depends on other things.
What you eat is probably more important for weight loss
Too often people see exercise as a ticket to “whatever you can eat land”. If you have experience with calorie counting you know that 400 calories is not that hard to consume with certain foods.
One glass of soda contains around 82 calories (3). That amount of calories comes down to about 15 minutes of extra stepping.
So how many steps you need to take a day to lose weight heavily depends on the rest of your daily routine.
How do extra steps compare to other workouts?
Life can get busy sometimes. It’s not just important that extra steps burn extra calories.
You also need to know how walking compares with other kinds of exercise for weight loss.
Cardio and HIIT vs weight lifting
All forms of exercise can be divided into 3 main categories. These 3 categories are cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight lifting. In terms of what parts of your body they impact you can bucket cardio and HIIT together.
Each workout will inevitably use both your cardiovascular system and muscles. However, usually one of the two really stands out. The way cardio and HIIT help you lose weight is slightly different from how more muscle helps you lose weight. One or the other can be better depending on the situation.
Weight lifting helps you burn more calories by increasing muscle mass. How much you weigh is an important factor of how many calories you burn each day. That’s how many weight loss plateaus happen, you lose some weight and you start burning less calories with the same habits.
Building more muscle helps you add healthy weight. A certain amount of muscle also burns slightly more calories than the same amount of fat.
This means that by spending a little time building muscle you can increase the amount of calories you burn 24/7.
Cardio and HIIT
Cardio and HIIT help you burn more calories by increasing the intensity and quantity of movement right now.
This makes those kinds of exercise great for short term energy usage. The flip side of the coin is that once you stop doing these kinds of exercise the extra calorie burning will stop fast.
HIIT is basically cardio but faster. So depending on your tempo you are doing one or the other. The higher the intensity of the exercise you are doing, the more calories you burn.
HIIT can also cause something called “afterburn”. This is basically having an increased metabolism for a while after you stopped the exercise.
Do this for long term weight loss
So cardio and HIIT are good for fat loss in the next hour or so. For long term weight loss weight lifting can be a lot more time and effort efficient.
You can also do both. The extra muscle will help you get more out of your cardio workout.
Often people forget that your choice of exercise isn’t only about how efficient the calorie burning is.
If you really don’t like doing only weight lifting, chances are you won’t stick to it. In that case you might want to choose a cardio workout and more specifically doing extra steps.
Doing extra steps can be great if you only have small blocks of free time available throughout the day or if you’re just starting out and want to avoid any injuries.
Extra steps compared to other workouts for weight loss
You have to keep in mind that the amount of calories burned by exercising depends from person to person. Things like age, weight, activity levels,… influence it.
That being said, there are still approximations. You can see the calories burned for different kinds of exercises to see how extra walking compares to other workouts.
The following numbers are an estimation for a 155-pound person doing the exercises for 30 minutes (1).
- Walking at 3.5 mph: 149 calories
- Water Aerobics: 149 calories
- Stretching (Hatha Yoga): 186 calories
- Stair Step Machine (general): 223 calories
- Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
- Running 5.2 mph: 335 calories
- Jumping rope: 372 calories
- Swimming (breaststroke): 372 calories
The thing with these numbers is also that the more intense and the longer you do your exercise, the more calories you will burn. These measurements are great to get an estimation but you can’t rely on them being the exact same for you.
If you’re looking for time-efficient weight loss, only focusing on doing extra steps is not that great.
Should you focus on doing extra steps to lose weight?
When trying to lose weight people sometimes get too focused on a single aspect of their life. The amount of steps you do every day is not the only thing that determines how much weight you lose.
Losing weight by walking can be a great way to start off your weight loss journey. It’s not too intense right from the start and it’s a good way to get some extra movement if you only have small blocks of free time. Walking is a good way to start but sooner or later other workouts will be better.
Even if you don’t have a lot of free time throughout the day something like jumping rope is better for calorie burning (about 372 calories per 30 minutes).
That being said, doing extra steps each day is better than doing no exercise at all.
Things to keep in mind with extra steps
First of all, the amount of weight you lose with the same exercise routine lowers over time.
One of the things that influences how many calories you burn with exercise is how much you weigh. Your body uses more energy for movement the heavier you are. Once you start losing weight by doing extra steps these steps won’t burn as many calories.
This is a common reason for weight loss plateaus. Your old habits just won’t burn as many calories when you slim down.
Some ways you can burn more calories with extra steps is by increase your walking intensity, increasing the amount of steps you do and increasing your weight with muscle.
Tips to make your daily extra steps more fun
One of the benefits of something like steps is that it’s easy to make more fun.
The first way you can make your daily steps more fun is by listening to your favorite music or podcasts.
The second way is by doing your extra steps outside. Sunlight is great (up to a certain point) but most people don’t get enough of it. By walking outside you will get more vitamin D and sleep better at night.
The third and final tip is to catch up with family, friends or colleagues while doing your extra steps together.