PROVO, Utah — Those in search of a slimmer waist, or just interested in maintaining their current weight, have long been advised by health experts to log at least 10,000 steps per day. Reaching that magic number daily is thought of as a real accomplishment for many people, and countless walkers utilize fitness trackers and smart watches to ensure they reach their goal day in and day out. Well, a new study is bringing the 10,000 step theory to a grinding halt. Researchers from Brigham Young University have concluded that no number of simple steps alone are going to prevent weight gain or induce weight loss.
A total of 120 freshman students at BYU were analyzed for this study. The research was conducted during the students’ first six months on campus, and their steps per day were tracked on a daily basis. Participating students walked either 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps every day for six days a week. During the duration of the experiment (24 weeks) the students’ diets and body weights were also tracked.
The research team were especially interested to see if steadily increasing the amount of steps per day each student took would result in increasing weight loss. For instance, if students walking 12,500 steps per day would end up losing more weight than those walking 10,000 per day.
Surprisingly, the end results indicated that it didn’t matter whether the students walked 10,000 or even more than 15,000 steps per day. Many students still ended up gaining weight. For what it’s worth, it’s exceedingly common for college freshman to gain some weight during their first few months away from home, the phenomenon even has a nickname (the freshman 15).
Participating students gained an average of 3.5 pounds over the course of the observation period.
“Exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight,” says lead author Bruce Bailey, professor of exercise science at BYU, in a release. “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.”
During the study, students were fitted with pedometers for 24-hours per day. Before the study got started, the students were walking an average of 9,600 steps per day.
Even though the students didn’t lose weight, walking a lot each day still had some beneficial effects on their overall physical health. Among the 15,000 step per day group, students saw their daily sedentary time decrease by as much as 77 minutes each day.
All in all, the study’s authors say that walking regularly “may have other emotional and health benefits.”
“The biggest benefit of step recommendations is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle,” Bailey concludes. “Even though it won’t prevent weight gain on its own, more steps is always better for you.”
The study is published in the Journal of Obesity.