Physical activity is necessary if you want to live a longer, healthier life — and if you’re trying to lose weight, the health benefits of an activity as simple as walking are remarkable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person weighing about 154 lbs and walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a day, five times a week can burn a pound of body fat a month.
So, what does that translate to in steps? Well, just like your weight and your idea of a “moderate pace,” every person’s ideal daily step count for weight loss is a little different.
In other words, there’s no magic number of daily steps that will help you shred pounds. But if you’re trying to promote wellness, get your heart rate up with some cardio and avoid chronic diseases like obesity and high blood pressure, there’s a range of steps that will help you get there.
Below, we’ve covered what science says about how many steps you’ll need to take to drop pounds and some tips for getting across the finish line.
First and foremost, you’re probably wondering if there’s a magic number of steps to take each day, and whether that number is in fact 10,000, like you might have heard.
It's important to understand that you’re not going to cheat death by hitting green on your pedometer app every day. A person’s risk of death due to disease is about far more than steps — it includes age, weight, genetics, sleep habits, stress and mental health factors, as well as other lifestyle metrics like diet, smoking, drinking and drug use.
That said, we do have some interesting data. A 2022 meta-analysis that included data from multiple continents representing nearly 50,000 adults showed that the risk of “all-cause mortality” (a blanket term including everything from heart disease to choking on boba tea) decreases based on the number of steps you take.
The authors further found that your risk of all-cause mortality is reduced by the number of steps you take — with a caveat. You’ll see benefits for each step you take up to the 8,000 to 10,000 range for most adults under 60, and up to 6,000 to 8,000 steps for those over 60. After that, you don’t get additional benefits.
Cheating death on the daily is one thing, but if you want to reduce your body weight, the math is a little different than counting a few thousand steps.
Knowing how many steps you take in minutes per week might paint a better picture of your weight loss needs than daily steps, at least according to a 2015 study. The results of that research found that an average of 150 minutes of walking per week stabilized a person’s weight, while 300 was the average number of minutes of walking needed to create significant weight loss, alongside changes to your diet.
As for an actual step number, there isn’t any substantial research pointing to a specific range. As long as you’re getting to that 8,000ish range for lower mortality, chances are that you’re also getting the aerobic exercise needed for weight loss.
Just make sure that along with your strides towards weight loss, you’re focusing on healthy eating, which will improve your chances of a calorie deficit and help your blood sugar control as well.
There’s no science-backed best practice for hitting your goals. Some people swear by fitness trackers, while others challenge themselves by trying to finish their steps at a brisk pace. You might find you succeed with the aid of a personal trainer or that you can accomplish everything you need to do with a 10-minute walk every couple of hours.
However, for beginners who haven’t figured out how to hit their step goal and those of us still trying to decide between trendy workouts and Fitbit® models, here are some suggestions to help get you moving in the right direction:
Track your steps. To make sure you’re getting your daily steps, you’ll need to count them. We suggest a pedometer or other fitness tracker so that you can focus on walking and not on counting. Most smartphones — and all iPhones — automatically track your steps, so if you have one, you can just carry it with you instead of buying something new.
Build in a daily walk. Whether it’s at sunrise, lunchtime or in-between meetings, you can burn body fat just by committing to a single daily walk and sticking to that commitment.
Take mini-walks. Not everyone has time in the day to crush 10,000 steps without interruption — and not everyone has the stamina. If you’re still improving your activity level or injuries or obesity keep you from putting too much strain on your body at one time, shorter periods of daily activity still offer the same benefits to your overall health.
Go the extra mile. Okay, it doesn’t have to be a literal mile, but remember that you’ll need to occasionally adjust your goal to your current fitness level to get all of the benefits of walking. That means increasing your step count, intensity of exercise or even the incline as you work towards your magic number and get fitter.
Walk and talk. Want to forget the energy expenditure you’ve got going on? Distract yourself with discussion. Having a brisk walking buddy or a trainer join you is a great way to burn calories together, but if you’re stuck solo, consider taking phone calls or even joining remote meetings while on the move.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic number when it comes to steps taken and pounds dropped — if there was, you probably wouldn’t have visited a dozen other blogs just like this one trying to find a good answer.
The truth is that every person has different needs. However, some general guidelines will help you convert your footfalls into burned calories:
The weight loss and health benefits of taking a lot of steps each day vary from person to person, so it’s hard to pin down a specific number of steps you should take to shed pounds.
That said, 150 to 300 minutes or more of walking a week, alongside a healthy diet, has been associated with weight loss outcomes in studies.
Generally, staying active, eating well and taking care of your health, sleep and stress are all important for maintaining a healthy weight.
If you’re trying to hit your step goals but struggle to do so regularly, tracking your steps, creating routines, finding company for the journey and pushing yourself to reach new goals are great ways to make the habit stick.
Want to shed more unwanted weight? Learn more about other treatments for weight loss.
Dr. Craig Primack MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA is a physician specializing in obesity medicine.
He completed a combined residency in Internal Medicine and in Pediatrics at Banner University- Phoenix, and Phoenix Children's Hospital. He received post-residency training in Obesity Medicine and is one of about 7,000 physicians in the US certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine.
In 2006, Dr. Primack co-founded Scottdale Weight Loss Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he began practicing full-time obesity medicine. Scottsdale Weight Loss Center has grown since then to six obesity medicine clinicians in four locations around the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area.
From 2019-2021, he served as president of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), a society of over 5,000 clinicians dedicated to clinical obesity medicine. He has been on the OMA board since 2010, currently serving as ex-officio trustee.
Dr Primack routinely does media interviews regarding weight loss and regularly speaks around the country educating medical professionals about weight loss and obesity care. He is co-author of the book, “Chasing Diets”.