Walking is excellent for health. It’s great for mood and body. It helps us maintain muscle, aids circulation and can help us avoid post-meal blood sugar spikes. However, according to a new study, walking may not prevent weight gain.
Researchers looked at college freshmen to study how walking impacted weight. The transition of high school to college is usually marked with less physical activity and new weight gain, known as “the freshman 15.” Most people don’t gain 15 pounds; most gain three to nine pounds. While the link between exercise and weight is not a one-to-one relationship, exercise does play a significant role in weight gain and loss.
The researchers wanted to see if simply walking more could stave off those new pounds. The scientists gave 120 freshmen women pedometers and sorted them into groups, walking 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps a day, six days a week for 24 weeks. The pedometer (seen above) was taken off only for showering or during activities where it might be exposed to water. Additionally, they tracked what the participants ate, right down to ketchup. While the researchers saw that walking aided physical activity and health levels, it didn’t prevent weight gain. Even people in the 15,000-step group gained weight.
The research may come as a disappointment to many of us hoping to lose weight or prevent gaining it by getting our 10,000 steps a day. “Exercise alone is not always the most effective way to lose weight,” said lead author Bruce Bailey of BYU. “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.”
A positive note is that they saw that with the more steps a person took, the less time they were sedentary. In fact, people who walked 15,000 steps a day were moving more by about 77 minutes per day. That makes a big impact. Dr. Bailey agreed that the information was heartening. “The biggest benefit of step recommendations is getting people out of a sedentary lifestyle,” he said. “Even though it won’t prevent weight gain on its own, more steps is always better for you.”
Additionally, the study helped the participants get more exercise. People in the study were seen to walk, on average, 9,600 steps a day in the beginning. By the end, even people in the 10,000-step group were getting over 11,000. As being sedentary is unhealthy, this was a good thing. Perhaps it was that the participants thought about motion more. Knowing it was being tracked, they may have been prompted by the presence of their pedometer to get up more.
While we find the study to be disappointing, we come away thinking that getting a pedometer might help us be more active. Simply seeing how little we walk in our day-to-day life could motivate us to move more. Even if it doesn’t help our weight, the researchers stressed that that didn’t negate walking’s health and emotional benefits. Speak to your doctor, your insurance may provide you with a pedometer for free as they would prefer you to be healthy and fit.