• Darshini Krishna

Underrated Fat Loss Tools Part 1: Your Steps Count

Key takeaways:

1. You can burn 10% more total calories walking than exercising

2. Walking is low intensity, low impact, and accessible 3. When walking for fat loss, 8,000 steps is a win, 10,000 steps is an A+

Ever since the COVID pandemic, Singapore has seen a rise in obesity rates to the highest level since 2010, with more than 20% of Singaporeans falling into the high-risk BMI category.

While there are many underlying reasons for the increase in the obesity rate (not the focus of this post), stress eating, binge drinking, among others, one very glaring reason is that working from home became a default arrangement. All over the world, there are studies that depict that obesity rates have an inverse relationship with public transport ridership. Simply put, we used to need to walk to the MRT and climb the stairs to get to work, now we are glued to our chairs for hours on end. Our daily step count has taken a sharp dive as the only walking we do are to our work desk, the kitchen and toilet, and back again.

In this post, I want to touch on the fact that Step Count is one of the most underrated fat loss tools and how we can actively try to increase it.

First, we need to understand that Non-exercise activity forms part of the Total Daily Expenditure Equation (TDEE), making it the second biggest contributor after BMR.

NEAT consists of all energy used during unplanned movement such as when you are working or during leisure time, including standing up, walking around, fidgeting, blinking, shaking your foot, singing, shouting, talking, doing housework, anything that is not exercise!

Adapted from Maclean et al., 2011.

As it is clearly hard to track how much we fidget and blink, a more practical measure of our NEAT is the number of steps we take daily. Contrary to popular belief, we actually have the capacity to burn far more calories through NEAT than through exercise - NEAT as a percentage of TDEE is 15%, whereas EA is only 5%! This is not to say we don’t need to exercise, just that the main purpose is misunderstood, it should be to build lean muscle mass (and the other host of benefits) and not solely to burn calories!

What about 10,000 steps?

In recent times, getting 10,000 steps a day has become the gold standard with health boards setting it as the recommended step goal, running challenges and fitness trackers setting it as a default goal.

The origin of this magical number is less scientific than most people would have believed. In 1964, Tokyo was preparing to host the Olympics. There was an increased focus on the fitness of the population of Japan. Awareness spread about the importance of regular exercise to fight lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes. The simplest exercise was walking - anyone could do it, no fancy facilities or special equipment needed. Soon after, a modern pedometer started being sold- Manpo-kei, which literally translates to 10,000 steps in Japanese. It was born out of a marketing campaign and not out of scientific research!

Step count for health

Many studies have dug into this, in particular the link between step count & intensity with mortality & disease. The takeaway is that increasing our daily steps from a base of zero to 4000 to 7000 steps rapidly reduces mortality & disease. After that, any increase beyond 7000 steps leads to a gradual plateauing of returns.⁣ This means from a health perspective, there is no real benefit of doing 17,000 steps daily compared to 7,000.

Step count for fat loss What about walking for fat loss? When you are chasing a body composition goal, NEAT is key. All of my coaching clients get assigned a daily movement goal to hit. Walking is a simple task that doesn’t require any skill development, we all know how to walk! It is also extremely low intensity, meaning you keep it up for longer, without tiring out and letting your lack of cardiovascular endurance be the limiting factor. It also doesn’t put undue stress on your joints, ligaments and muscles as it is low impact.

I recommend most clients who are currently in a fat loss phase to aim for 8-10k steps daily. This might mean you may need to get out more intentionally for your walks, but logically speaking, when it comes to attaining a calorie deficit there are truly only two ways to go about it - move more, or eat less. If you don’t wish to drop calories any lower, and sometimes depending on the level of calories you are at, it may not be feasible either, from a sustainability angle, it makes far more sense to increase your step count instead.

Also, your body has a tendency to reduce movement naturally when it senses a drop in calories, it is its way of maintaining homeostasis, which is why it is key to continue to track your steps through the diet and make sure you keep it at a pre-determined level, otherwise you will find that the longer you progress into the diet, your steps will decrease in sync too- not what we want.

Overall, being active is the key, but having an all-or-nothing mentality towards your step count isn't helpful. Fitness is more than just walking, we need to lift weights, and work in other energy systems as well. That said, if you are working on increasing your step count and struggling, here are some practical ways you can implement to increase step count.

Practical ways to Increase Step Count

1. Get out for a morning walk

Start your day with a morning walk to get some fresh air and clock in your steps before sitting down at your desk for work.

2. Park further away Simply park your car at the end of the lot, and get some extra steps in. 3. Take public transport instead This is one of my favorites because you can easily clock thousands more steps simply having to walk everywhere- to the bus stop, to the train, back home. Plus if you’re going grocery shopping, you get extra exercise from that farmers carry. 4. Pace during your next phone call or TV show. Pacing during a 30-minute show can easily help you rack up 3000-5000 steps! Easy win the next time you switch on Netflix. 5. Get a desk treadmill This is great for those of us who cannot find time to leave the desk during lunch, or have random work calls and need to be on call. No excuses when you have a treadmill below your desk.

6. Walk to somebody instead of emailing them If you are working in the office or complex where you usually send a note out to a colleague, walk over and deliver that message instead! Some face-to-face human interaction is good for us all too.

7. Partner up

Know someone who needs to get their steps up as well? Get them to be your accountability buddy. Time flies when you are enjoying the company of a loved one or friend, and before you know it you would have clocked in 10k steps, easy breezy. 8. Take a walk at lunch Head out for a stroll around the block right after your lunch before heading back to work. Not only is this great for digestion, the fresh air and sunshine will also do you some good too. 9. Take the stairs Avoid escalators, elevators, travellators. Avoid the crowd and take the stairs, you might reach your destination faster too. 10. Walk while you wait Need to wait for something? Instead of sitting down and flipping through a magazine, take a walk around the building or area. 11. Set an hourly alarm

Most fitness trackers have a built-in hourly buzzer that goes off to get you moving. Activate this and get up for a short walk around your room or office whenever it goes off! A few hundred steps every hour adds up quickly.

12. Break it up

8-10k steps don’t need to happen at one go. Instead of scheduling out 1 hour to walk a day, break it up to 3-4 bouts of 10-15 minute walks each!

13. Take a walk after dinner Instead of sitting down after your dinner, head out for an evening stroll instead!