Healthy Steps: Get Walking to Lose Weight

10,000 Steps Daily Helps Midlife Women Lose Weight

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on May 06, 2004

May 6, 2004 -- Strap on the pedometer: Walking 10,000 steps daily helps greatly with weight loss, according to a new study. That's about five miles -- but over a day's time, it's possible, experts say.

Regular exercise has long been known to burn calories. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have less body fat, especially in the belly. Fat in the belly is linked to heart disease risk.

But the question has been: Exactly how much walking works?

This is the first study to specifically look at that figure, writes lead researcher Dixie L. Thompson, PhD, with the Center for Physical Activity and Health at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Her study appears in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

"Pedometers have become increasingly popular devices for public use," writes Thompson. "These devices are relatively inexpensive, are unobtrusive, and provide immediate feedback to the wearer." They also provide a relatively accurate report of overall calorie burn.

Among women over age 40, walking has been known to make a difference, reports Thompson. She set out to give midlife women a "walking formula" for weight loss.

Getting the Figure

In her study, 80 women -- average age 50 years old -- wore a pedometer every day for seven days. But before they started, researchers measured their height, weight, body mass index (BMI, a measure of body fat), as well as waist and hips (to determine belly fat).

Women wore their pedometers on their waistband. Every evening, they noted the number of steps they walked that day. Every morning, they reset the pedometers. They did nothing different, in terms of exercise -- just followed their typical work and leisure routines.

At the end of seven days, it was obvious: Women who walked more had less body fat, lower body mass index (BMI), and a lower waist/hip circumference, writes Thompson.

BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio are measures of obesity. A BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight, and more than 30 is obese. In men, having a waist more than 40 inches or waist-to-hip ratio more than 0.95 increases the risk of health problems. In women, it's 35 inches and 0.80.

The average sedentary person walks 2,000-3,000 steps per day.

In this study, women walking:

  • Less than 6,000 steps had a BMI of 29, 44% body fat, a 37-inch waist, 42-inch hips, and a 0.87 waist-to-hip ratio.

  • 6,000 to 10,000 steps had a BMI of 26, 35% body fat, a 32-inch waist, 40-inch hips, and a 0.80 waist-to-hip ratio.

  • 10,000 steps or more had a BMI of 23, 26% body fat, a 29-inch waist, 39-inch hips, and a 0.75 waist-to-hip ratio.

"Those who walked less had more total fat, and more centrally located fat," Thompson writes. The health implications (heart disease and type 2 diabetes) caused by this excess fat make her study important, she adds.

And walking has become increasingly popular among women between 45 and 54 years old. "Clearly, walking is an important means for American adults, and particularly women in their middle and older years."

Walking can have the added benefit of lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, she writes.

Her study does not show whether walking has similar effects for men -- or for women in other age or ethnic groups, since all were white women between 45 and 60 years old, she says. However, women in her study had diverse body compositions.

A few ideas to help you get walking:

  • Get a dog (so you'll have a good excuse to walk).
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Park farther from the mall or the office.

  • Take walking breaks during the work day.

  • After work, take a fast walk around your neighborhood, to get extra steps.

  • Get that step bench out of the closet and step-walk to your favorite TV show.

Soon enough, you'll be on top of that weight loss problem.

Show Sources

SOURCE: Thompson, D. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2004, pp 911-914. CDC. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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