Despite the common belief that we should all be walking 10,000 steps a day, new U.S. research has found that although walking more may decrease your sedentary time, it doesn't actually prevent weight gain.
Carried out by researchers at Brigham Young University, the new study looked at 120 freshmen students during their first six months of college and split them in to three groups to investigate whether increasing the number of daily steps above 10,000 would prevent weight and fat gain.
While one group of students was asked to walk 10,000 steps a day for six days a week over a period of 24 weeks, another group was asked to walk 12,500 steps a day, and a third 15,000 steps a day. The participants were asked to wear pedometers 24 hours a day to track their steps. The researchers also tracked the participant's caloric intake and weight.
The findings, published in the Journal of Obesity, showed that while the students walked approximately 9,600 steps per day on average before starting the study, those in the 10,000-step group managed to average 11,066 steps a day by the end of the study. Those in the 12,500-step group averaged 13,638 steps and those in the 15,000-step group averaged 14,557 steps a day.
However, no matter how many steps the students walked, they still gained weight, even if they were in the 15,000 steps a day group. The participants gained on average about 1.5 kg (around 3.5 lbs.) over the course of the study period, with the researchers noting that a 1 to 4 kg average weight gain is common during the first year of college, according to previous studies.
"Exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight," said lead author Bruce Bailey, "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."
However, one positive finding is that walking more did help boost physical activity levels, which "may have other emotional and health benefits," the study authors said. Unsurprisingly, walking more significantly reduced sedentary time in both the 12,500- and 15,000-step groups, and by as much as 77 minutes a day in the 15,000-step group.
"The biggest benefit of step recommendations is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle," Bailey. "Even though it won't prevent weight gain on its own, more steps [are] always better for you."