This study completely busts the 10,000 steps-a-day myth

For most people, getting 10,000 steps a day is the gold standard for a brighter life.

It’s been branded in our brains through fitness apps and trackers that encourage Americans to be more active, and therefore, should reach 10,000 steps per day in order to lead a healthier and more fit lifestyle. However, there’s no secret number that magically makes your waist slimmer and your heart stronger. Some research has suggested that people don’t need to hit anywhere near 10,000 steps daily to live longer.

But the truth is, there’s never been any number that is going to make you lose weight. In fact, steps alone won’t do the trick, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brigham Young University found that exercise is certainly a start to losing weight, but other factors influence us more in our pursuit of being healthier.

“Exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight,” lead author Bruce Bailey, professor of exercise science at BYU, said in a press release “If you track steps, it might have a benefit in increasing physical activity, but our study showed it won’t translate into maintaining weight or preventing weight gain.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Obesity, researchers took a look at more than 100 freshmen at the BYU over their first six months at school, where they participated in a step-counting exercise where they walked either 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps daily across six days for two dozen weeks.

Researchers wanted to figure out if exceeding the recommended 10,000 step count would minimize weight and fat gain in the participants. It was particularly interesting since college students tend to put the most weight on in their first year away from their parents, which has been coined famously as the “Freshman 15.”

Students averaged about 9,600 steps per day prior to the study’s start date. Their steps were tracked with pedometers, which monitored their activity 24 hours a day over the six-week trial.

Here’s what each group averaged throughout the study:

Participants in the 10,000-step group: 11,066 steps a day

Participants in the 12,500-step group: 13,638 steps a day

Participants in the 15,000-step group: 14,557 steps a day

At the conclusion of the study, no matter how many steps students walked they stilled gained weight. The average weight gain for the study was about 3.5 lbs, which is between what the average weight gain for students in their first year of college (1 to 4 kg).

While weight gain wasn’t halted with just steps, researchers did point to other positives from the study. For the 12,500-and-15,000-step groups, participants’ sedentary times drastically reduced, particularly for students in the 15,000-step group, where sedentary time decreased by 77 minutes per day.

“The biggest benefit of step recommendations is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle,” said Bailey. “Even though it won’t prevent weight gain on its own, more steps is always better for you.”

How does this study apply to the big picture? Simply put, steps aren’t enough for us if we want to make changes in our life. Other factors such as diet and even your job can impact you more than 10,000 steps a day can.