How much walking can promote fat burning?

In a recent randomized controlled trial, walking 5,000 or more steps in a day was shown to increase fat oxidation compared to walking only 2,000 steps, and walking 10,000 steps during a single day improved the metabolic response to a high-fat pizza meal!

The 10,000 Steps Concept

The concept of 10,000 steps as a public health recommendation originated from a Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer – a campaign that at first did not have strong evidence-based support. However, various studies have since suggested the benefits of achieving daily step counts, even below the 10,000 mark, in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as a proven simple and accessible form of physical activity. But what is the optimal dose of walking for health benefits, really?

The Recent Study

An October 2023 published study monitored walking of 11 young adults – six men and five women – with an average age of 30, without any known health conditions. On average, participants took approximately 7,700 steps per day. Researchers looked to study the effect of daily step count on postmeal metabolism in response to a high fat meal.

The study was a randomized controlled crossover study – meaning the participants go through the study conditions in random order, acting as their own controls (the gold standard for scientific research studies). In this study, they had four conditions, separated by a three to 10-day washout period. All periods involved tracking their steps, as well as eating a frozen pizza containing 960 calories, with 36% carbohydrates and 48% fat – what researchers called a “high-fat mixed meal.”

Before each pizza meal, the participants completed either 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 steps. The steps had to be completed in three about-equal sessions throughout the day, taken at about 100 steps per minute. The pizza was then eaten two hours after the final walk.

Before eating the pizza, and every 30 minutes after eating for four hours, blood samples were taken to measure triglycerides, blood glucose, low- and high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol, nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs), and insulin. One hour after the last walk, researchers also looked at resting energy expenditure, as well as carb and fat oxidation, and hunger and palatability were assessed before and after the participant ate their pizza.

What did they find?

Researchers found that triglyceride levels were lower after the pizza meal when the participant had walked 10,000 steps, as compared to those who walked 2,000 steps. NEFAs were higher in the 15,000-step condition, compared to both the 2,000-steps and – not significantly – compared to the 10,000 steps.

Although energy expenditure, carbohydrate oxidation, and fat oxidation were not different between the step count days, when they looked at male vs female, they found that fat oxidation was greater in the 5,000-step, 10,000-step, and 15,000-step conditions compared to the 2,000-step condition, which was driven by the male subjects.

What does it all mean?

The study seems to support the recommendation of 10,000 steps per day for improving metabolic health, although it remains unclear if more than 10,000 steps really offers more benefits.

The bottomline – adding walking into your daily routine is a great way to boost your metabolic health!

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