Best Way To Keep Weight Off? Walk This Many Steps, Says New Study

Updated: Jun. 13, 2024

The common goal of 10,000 steps per day isn't based on science—but new weight loss research from Vanderbilt University found one that is.

If you’ve ever changed your diet and fitness habits to lose weight, you know the even greater feat is to keep that weight off long-term. Eventually, you’d probably love to stop tracking points, calculating calories, or giving yourself that regular shot in the belly.

New research has found the best way to keep weight off may be a walk away each day. Harvard University says the traditionally recommended 10,000 steps originated from a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer sold in 1965. Of course a pedometer company wanted customers to walk more steps on the daily: That would wear out the pedometer faster so they’d need to buy new!

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Pedometers have certainly come a long way, and so has research about the health benefits of walking. One recent study found that 7,000 steps is good for heart health, and aiming for 8,000 may reduce the risk of premature death. Since 10,000 steps per day is roughly equivalent to five miles, this means that just 3.5 to four miles may promote heart health and longevity.

All great goals—but if your sights are set on how to keep weight off, especially if managing a slower metabolism has run in your family—researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center suggest you might want to add a little extra pep to your step.

A team of eight doctors at Vanderbilt set out to investigate the role of genetics in obesity risk and step count. Their research, published March 27, 2024 in the JAMA Open Network, collected data from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) database that tracks how biology, lifestyle, and environment affect health over time.
The study analyzed data from 3,124 participants with an average age of 51 and body mass index greater than 30, which is the zone for obesity. Seventy-three percent of participants were women.

The researchers also assessed the participants’ medical history that indicated their weight was linked with a genetic predisposition to obesity. All participants wore tracking devices and were followed for an average of five years for changes in BMI.

14 Benefits of Walking for Just 15 Minutes

The first finding might seem intuitive: The researchers discovered that those with a higher genetic risk for obesity saw the greatest success at maintaining their weight when they took a greater step count each day. More specifically, participants in the 75th percentile of the genetic risk score had to walk an average of 2,280 greater steps per day than those in the 50th percentile to maintain a healthy weight.

Those with the highest genetic risk for obesity had to achieve an average total of 11,020 steps, compared to the total sample’s average of 8,326. The Cleveland Clinic cites national data in stating that the average height of American women five feet, four inches. Based on that range of walking stride, an estimated mileage equivalent for 11,020 steps is roughly 4.75 miles.

And, perhaps no surprise: As body mass index increased for those with reported genetic obesity predisposition, so did the number of steps needed to return to a lower body mass.

Here’s what’s exciting, whether you’re genetically inclined to be heavier or not: The researchers suggest this study shows that genes are far from the only determining factor for weight and body mass. In fact, they concluded: “Genetic risk for obesity … can be overcome by increasing physical activity,” and that “engaging in physical activity can mitigate genetic obesity risk.”

The one drawback? The team says this hypothesis needs to be tested across broader populations, as this particular study largely used participants of European ancestry.

As always, speak to a licensed healthcare provider before beginning or increasing an exercise routine.