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How many steps do I need to walk a day to lose weight? Experts explain

Walking is linked to a host of health perks. How much is enough?

Walking every day can help improve your health — physical and psychological — in a multitude of ways. But exactly how many steps a day does it take to reap these benefits?

You’ve likely heard that the sweet spot is 10,000 steps a day. But walking that distance isn’t possible for everyone — and if you’re new to walking as a form of exercise, 10,000 steps might seem extra intimidating.

Finding the distance that’s right for you is key. And once you do, you'll feel how walking can pay off big time. Ahead, learn exactly what walking can do for you, how many steps you should be taking per day and how walking can contribute to weight loss.

What are the benefits of walking?

Walking can be a game-changer for health, particularly for reducing the risk of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and dementia, according to a study published in October 2022. This research also linked walking to reduced risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleep apnea and depression. The study found that 8,000 to 9,000 steps a day gave the biggest bang per stride for hypertension and diabetes, but benefits occurred even with lower step counts.

And when it comes to matters of the heart, you might not need to walk as far as you think. A new study, published on Feb. 21, 2024, which looked at the walking patterns of 6,000 women between 63 and 99 years old, found that an average of 3,600 steps a day could reduce the risk of heart failure by 26%. That’s about a mile and half of walking per day.

Walking also has tons of other benefits, TODAY.com previously reported. Walking can:

  • Improve your cardiovascular health and function
  • Increase your aerobic capacity
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Control your blood sugar and reduce your risk of diabetes
  • Increase your metabolism
  • Maintain your weight
  • Reduce your risk of osteoarthritis
  • Aid mobility
  • Reduce your risk of hypertension
  • Reduce your risk diabetes
  • Help lower high cholesterol

The mental health benefits are notable, too. Walking, particularly outdoors, has been shown to improve:

  • Relaxation
  • Focus
  • Socialization (if you walk with a friend)
  • Positivity
  • Depression

“Walking outside, being in nature and getting out of the same place allows you to decompress, understand what’s been going on and refocus,” Dr. Mark A. Slabaugh, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, previously told TODAY.com.

The boost of endorphins you get from walking is a plus too, says Dr. Icilma Fergus, cardiologist at Mount Sinai and director of cardiovascular disparities. “Exercising increases your positive attitude and positive outlook and allows one to feel better about themselves,” she adds.

How many steps should I be taking per day?

The often-touted 10,000 steps per day is an admirable goal, but if that’s not doable, Fergus says at least 4,000 steps per day is enough to reap cardio benefits that reduce the progression of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The exact number of steps you should take a day depends on your age, fitness level and other factors. Studies recommend higher step counts for younger and more agile folks, and lower step counts for older people, Fergus points out.

A study from May 2019 — which followed 16,741 women with the average age of 72 — found that just 4,400 steps per day reduced the risk of dying. “What’s really encouraging for these older women is that just doing a very little bit significantly benefited their health, and they really didn’t need 10,000 steps a day to get to that benefit,” lead author, I-Min Lee, Sc.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, previously told TODAY.com.

A Nature Journal study published in October 2022, found that there were no improvements in hypertension and diabetes after 8,000 to 9,000 steps a day. But walking more than that amount did lead to benefits for other conditions, such as obesity, depression, GERD and sleep apnea. And people saw improvements even if they didn’t manage to hit 8,000 steps, study co-author Dr. Evan Brittain, a cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told TODAY.com. “There is definitely still a benefit for step counts under 8,000,” he added.

A more recent study published Feb. 21, 2024, found that 3,600 steps is enough to reduce risk of heart failure in women over 63 years old. Doing 70 minutes per day of light intensity movement or 30 minutes a day of moderate-to-high-intensity movement respectively reduced risk of developing heart failure by 12% and 16% respectively.

While 10,000 steps per day is not the end all be all, an observational study published March 5, 2024, says the closer you are to walking 10,000 steps per day, the more you’ll reduce your risk of death and cardiovascular disease, regardless of the time you spend being sedentary. And the study found that lowering mortality and cardiovascular disease risk starts between 4,000 and 4,500 steps per day.

Bottom line: Getting more steps in than you typically do when you’re sedentary all day long, will benefit you in some way. If you really want a number, try aiming for around 4,000 steps per day and build on your step count from there.

How can I get myself to walk more?

On a day when you’re completely sedentary, you might only get 2,000 steps in, Fergus estimates. To up that number, find clever ways to get movement in while you’re working or socializing.

First, Fergus recommends moving your legs during meetings, whether you're seated at a conference table or on Zoom, since your colleagues can only see you from the waist up. “At the same time, if you have some 5-pound weights or 10-pound weights and you’re moving your arms, that’s some sort of activity that you can get during a Zoom meeting,” she adds.

Next, Fergus suggests walking around anytime you’re on the phone and taking the stairs as much as you can. And if you drive a lot throughout the day, park far from your destination. That way, you can log some additional steps.

Those who can’t walk 8,000 to 9,000 steps a day “could work up to it,” says Dr. Erwin Bottinger, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and co-director of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai in New York. “They should challenge themselves, if there is no obvious disability or injury that would make it hard to reach that step count.” Check your progress using a Fitbit or your phone and add steps day by day.

TODAY fitness contributor Stephanie Mansour also emphasizes the importance of ditching the all-or-nothing approach to working out and meeting yourself “where you’re at.” If 8,000 or 9,000 steps seems too intimidating, she recommends walking for just 20 minutes or fewer to start.

“You’re proving to yourself that, ‘Hey, I said, I’m going to walk today. Even though I just walked for one minute, I still kept my commitment to myself,’” Mansour explains. Then, once you’re confident that you can achieve that number of minutes or that number of steps, add to it.

Will walking more help me lose weight?

While short walks and lower step counts are usually enough for cardiovascular protection, says Fergus, when it comes to losing weight, “you have to up the minutes to about 60 minutes on most days for weight loss,” she says.

“(Walking is) a low-impact aerobic exercise that allows individuals to expend energy and burn calories,” Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, previously told TODAY.com.

If walking for an hour seems intimidating, work up to it. “The thing to understand is that it doesn’t have to be all in one walking session. You can break it up through the course of that day,” Bryant said. He advises breaking up those walks into two or three large chunks to start.

Walking can even help you change your diet, leading to weight loss.

For example, the more you exercise, the more water you need. “If you’re hydrating a lot more with water, then you feel (fuller),” Fergus explains, so then you’ll feel fewer hunger pangs. Walking also releases endorphins, which curb feelings of sadness and anxiety — which might make you reach for less-nutritious comfort foods and can leave you feeling sluggish. And exercising may keep you in the mindset to reach for the foods that keep you feeling good.