Why is exercise important for weight loss?

Exercise is not only important for weight loss but for maintaining your new healthy weight too. Being physically active increases your metabolic rate – so that you burn more calories – even at rest. The good news is that walking at any pace uses energy and can aid weight loss.

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Discover our full range of health benefit guides including what are the benefits of walking?

Why should we count steps?

Although governments suggest exercise guidelines in terms of frequency, duration and intensity, most experts agree that monitoring how active you are throughout the course of your day, in addition to any scheduled exercise, gives a better overall picture of your activity levels. Recording distance as opposed to time is also more relevant for certain activities such as running and walking.

Friends walking in sports gear

How many steps should I take for good health?

Time after time studies report that the more steps we take, the better it is for our health and longevity. Still, is there a magic number to aim for and does it matter how these steps are accumulated?

Evidence confirms that most healthy adults typically take between 4,000 and 18,000 steps per day, with 10,000 being a reasonable number for an active adult. However, this 10,000 step target is not appropriate for everyone, including older adults or those with chronic conditions. It may also not be appropriate for older children, who should be clocking up more than 10,000 steps a day.

For less active groups, a better guide is based on an average 100 steps per minute over the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity, suggesting a minimum of 3,000 steps. These steps should be completed over and above your habitual activity and on at least 5 days of the week to meet government activity guidelines.

While increasing our steps by “taking the stairs rather than the lift” or “getting off the bus one stop earlier” adds to our overall step count, there may be other benefits too. A 2021 study of older women (average age 72 years) found those who took regular bursts of activity (2,000+ steps), were 32% less likely to die within the study timeline.

How many steps to lose weight?

When weight loss is the primary goal, counting steps using a pedometer seems to be an effective tool for both children and adults.

Depending on your age, gender and current activity levels, if you’d like to lose some extra inches, then 10,000 steps per day is a reasonable target. Try to include solid bursts of 3,500 steps or more to up the positive impact.

How do I calculate my daily steps?

The best way to count steps is with the aid of a pedometer. These devices provide an objective measure of activity levels and give you instant feedback. They do this by detecting vertical movement at your hip, which is measured to record the number of steps you walk, run or dance.

Typically worn around your waist or on your wrist, pedometers can be electronic or electro-mechanical to provide a useful estimation of the total distance you’ve covered. Popular versions are available as a watch or as an app to use on your smart phone. The Active 10 app from the NHS, is one such example – it tracks your steps, records the time you exercise and even helps you set new goals.

Are there any problems with step counting?

Without doubt pedometers are useful for quantifying activity, but they’re not exact method when it comes to measuring energy expenditure. They may also contribute to an obsessive or unhealthy attitude toward exercise for some people.

Why is walking so good for weight loss?

Walking is the most natural of activities. It’s free, available to all year round, and can be incorporated into our everyday lives whether at home or work. It’s the only sustained aerobic exercise that’s suitable for the majority of us, with the exception of those who have a serious disability or are very frail.

Any amount of walking, and at any pace, uses energy and therefore can aid weight loss. However, optimum results are achieved when moderate walking is combined with some element of calorie restriction.

Although walking whenever you can has to be the best approach, extra benefits are gained from getting out first thing in the morning, since morning walking may help control your appetite. Enjoying a walk after your main meal may also help control blood sugar levels and reduce the accumulation of abdominal fat. This is because getting moving improves how our bodies respond to insulin, the hormone which regulates blood sugar.

How can I increase my daily steps?

In order to lose weight or improve your fitness you need to first understand how many steps you average in a typical day. Once you know this baseline figure you can start to set manageable goals to increase your number over the coming weeks or months.

Here are some ways to increase your daily count:

1. Take the stairs, not the lift
2. Walk to work or get off the bus one stop earlier
3. Park further way from your destination
4. Do housework, such as vacuuming, mopping and sweeping
5. Introduce an extra walk, such as during your lunch break
6. Get physical in the garden and mow the lawn, sweep the path, etc.
7. Join a dance club or put on your favourite playlist and dance in your kitchen
8. Join a rambler’s group
9. Walk a neighbour’s dog
10. Take up golf

A few final thoughts

Keeping active and following a balanced, healthy eating plan are two of the main factors involved in maintaining a healthy weight. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get active; it’s free and may help you lose weight and feel better. It’s a low impact, weight-bearing exercise with clear benefits for both your physical and mental health.

If you are new to exercise, have an underlying medical condition or existing injuries, please consult your doctor before embarking on any new exercise programme.

Found this useful? Now read...

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Not sure where to start? Browse some of our favourite walking resources:

NHS walking for health
NHS get active
Road wise
Ramblers walking groups
Walk active


This article was published in 20 December 2022.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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