Step Tracking to Lose Weight – Does it Work?
Step trackers, fitness trackers, pedometers: Whatever you call them, wearable devices are popular with everyone from fitness newbies to hardcore distance runners. They can be used to support a number of fitness goals, including weight loss.
Step tracking to lose weight is a valid strategy. There are many reasons counting steps can be effective for weight loss, but you need to keep a few things in mind to do it right and to hit your weight loss goals safely and effectively.
A fitness tracker can be a great way to lose weight slowly but steadily. Read about why weight loss can be too fast.
Does Step Tracking to Lose Weight Really Work?
A step tracking program for weight loss can definitely support your goals if you do it right. Going from being mostly sedentary to walking 10,000 steps per day will certainly make a difference to your fitness and weight.
In general, losing weight is all about increasing your activity level to burn more calories and decreasing your calorie intake. A step program will help you focus on the former as part of an overall healthy lifestyle shift.
And yes, you will likely lose weight. A study that looked at steps and fitness measures found that participants who took more steps per day weighed less and had a lower body mass index than those who did not take as many steps.1 Here are some important reasons why tracking your steps can help support your weight loss goals.
More Steps Means More Calories Burned
The more calories you burn the more weight you can potentially lose. Of course weight loss is more complicated than simply counting calories, but this is a big part of it. And by stepping more, you will use more energy, giving you a better chance of getting into a calorie deficit.
Stay Motivated to Get More Physical Activity
Goals are motivating. You have probably experienced this in at least one other area of your life, such as at work. Setting a goal to achieve that is reasonable and specific will improve your motivation.
For instance, you are more likely to get up and go for a walk if you set a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day than if you simply say you want to move more or be more active. That set number becomes like a game and you want to hit it every day to win.
Step Tracking to Lose Weight Keeps You Accountable
Likewise, the specific number of steps you set for your daily goal makes you accountable to your larger, overall goals. You want to lose weight, but how do you make sure you achieve it? Measurable and concrete actions, like taking a certain number of steps, hold you accountable.
Need help choosing the right fitness tracker for you? Check out this ISSA blog post on wearable fitness devices.
How to Use a Step Tracker for Weight Loss Goals
There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to use a step tracker or pedometer to lose weight. You need a concrete goal and a plan. Simply walking 10,000 steps a day and eating whatever you want, for instance, is not likely to support your goal of weight loss. You need an overall strategy that includes both different types of exercise and a healthy eating plan. Here are some important factors to consider as you form that plan.
Choose Your Step Number
For steps to be a significant part of losing weight, you need to choose the right number. According to research, the average adult takes between 5,900 and 6,900 steps per day. Estimates are that adults should take closer to 8,900 to 9,900 steps per day, with at least 3,000 of those steps comprising moderate intensity activity.2
This is where the magic number 10,000 comes from, which most people use as their daily step goal. It’s a good goal to set for most people. But if you are new to being physically active, try counting your steps on a typical day and then increasing that in 2,000-step increments per week until you get to 10,000.
If you are counting calories to lose weight, you can get more mathematical with your steps. Look up charts and calculating tools online and you’ll be able to determine approximately how many calories you burn in 1,000 steps. You can also use your fitness device to track the calories you burn.
Keep in mind that if you use your fitness tracker to track calories burned, it may not be accurate. A study published recently looked at data from 60 previous studies that investigated the accuracy of devices measuring energy expenditure.3
The researchers found that accuracy varied widely and depended on activities. Specifically, they were less accurate at measuring calories burned during less vigorous activities. So, use your device with a grain of salt and remember that the calories burned per 1,000 steps or 10,000 steps will be an estimate. It is a useful tool but not to be totally relied upon.
Get Your Heart Rate up
As the suggestion from the study above indicates, your 10,000 steps cannot all be easy strolling. At least 3,000 steps should come from moderate-intensity activity. This is any movement that gets your heart rate up, which is essential for the calorie burn you need to lose weight. Include a slow jog or a brisk walk for 3,000 steps each day to hit this goal.
You’ll hit the fat burning zone when your heart rate is 60 to 70 percent of its maximum. Find your maximum by subtracting your age from 220. For instance, if you are 40 years old, your max heart rate is 180 and your fat burn zone, which you should target for at least 3,000 of your steps, is 108 to 126.
Walk to the Gym for Strength Training
Gaining muscle mass is an important part of losing body fat. If you are going from completely sedentary to walking every day, you will see some big improvements right away. But, if you don’t also add in strength training to build muscle, those gains will be limited.
Get some of your daily steps in a gym workout. Lifting won’t give you a lot of steps, but it will improve your body composition, increase your overall fitness, and support your weight loss goals. If possible, get more steps and more calorie burn by walking to the gym.
Make Healthy Diet Changes
It’s important to get steps and cardio workouts along with strength training, but don’t forget to consider your diet. The best way to lose weight is to include all of these factors: cardio and increased physical activity to burn calories, strength training to build muscle mass, and healthy food choices to lower your calorie intake and get more nutrient-dense foods.
If you struggle with your diet and don’t know how to make positive changes, you may want to work with a nutrition coach. A good nutrition coach can help you set goals and figure out how to meet them with the foods you choose. Your coach will also help you figure out portions and how to swap out high-calorie foods for lower-calorie, nutrient-dense options.
Counting steps is a fitness trend with staying power and for good reason. It’s a motivating tool that can get you up and more active than you would have otherwise. The challenge of getting in 10,000 steps each day forces you to make a small but important change to walk and move more. If you do this right, with goals, a plan, and healthy eating, you can lose weight with the help of a step tracker.
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1Tudor-Locke, C., Schuna, J.M., Han, H.O., Aguiar, E.J., Green, M.A., Busa, M.A., Larrivee, S., and Johnson W.D. (2017). Step-Based Physical Activity Metrics and Cardiometabolic Risk: NHANES 2005-2006. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 49(2), 283-91. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27669450
2Tudor-Locke, C. (2010). Steps to Better Cardiovascular Health: How Many Steps Does it Take to Achieve Good Health and How Confident are we in This Number? Curr. Cardiovasc. Risk Rep., 4(4), 271-6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894114/
3O’Driscoll, R., Turicchi, J., Beaulieu, K., Scott, S., Matu, J., Deighton, K., Finlayson, G., and Stubbs, J. (2018). How Well Do Activity Monitors Estimate Energy Expenditure? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Validity of Current Technologies. British Journal of Sports Medicine., Online First: 07 September 2018. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099643. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30194221